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Edward Gibbon 

Born, Putney .... April, 27, 1737 
Died, St. James's Street, London . Januarv 16, 1794 

The first volume of " The Decline and Fall of the 
Roman Empire" was first published in 1776, and the 
last in 1788. In " The World's Classics" the work 
is contained in seven volumes. Vol. II was jmb- 
lished in 1903, and reprinted in 1905 and 1907. 

Printed by BALLAXirxE, Haxson & Co. 
At the Ballantyne Press, Edinburgh 

* '^•'i 

JJ ^ 

3// ^ 
/ 9^^ 





Importance of the Inquiry ...... 1 

Its Difficulties . . ' 2 

Five Causes of the Growth of Christianity ... 2 

I. The First Cause. Zeal of the Jews' . . , 3 
Its gradual increase ....... 4 

Their Religion better suited to Defence than to 

Conquest ........ 5 

More Liberal Zeal of Christianity .... 7 

Obstinacy and Reasons of the Believing Jews . . 8 

The Nazarene Church of Jerusalem .... 9 

The Ebionites 11 

The Gnostics 12 

Their Sects, Progress, and Influence . . . . 1-i 

The Daemons considered as the Gods of Antiquity . 16 

Abhorrence of the Christians for Idolatry ... 17 

Ceremonies 18 

Arts 19 

Festivals 19 

Zeal for Christianity ....... "0 

II. The Second Cause. The Doctrine of the Im- 
mortahty of the Soul among the Philosopher^ 21-22 

Among the Pagans of Greece and Rome . . 23 

Among the Barbarians and the Jews . . 24 

Among the Christians . . . . .25 

Approaching End of the World ..... 25 

Doctrine of the Millennium .... 26-27 

Conflagration of Rome and of the World ... 28 




The Pagans devoted to Eternal Punishment . . 29 

Were often converted by their Fears ... 31 

III. The Third Cause. iVIiraculous powers of the 
Primitive Church. ...... 31 

Their Truth contested .33 

Our perplexity in defining the miraculous Period . 33 

Use of the Primitive Miracles 35 

IV. The Fourth Cause. Virtues of the first 
Christians ........ 36 

Effects of their Repentance 36 

Care of their Reputation ...... 37 

Morality of the Fathers 38 

Principles of Human Nature ..... 39 

The Primitive Christians condemn Pleasure and 

Luxury . . . . . . . .40 

Their Sentiments concerning Marriage and Chastity 41 
Their Aversion to the Business of War and Govern- 
ment ......... 43 

V. The Fifth Cause. The Christians active in the 
Government of the Church ..... 44 

Its Primitive Freedom and Equality .... 46 
Institution of Bishops as Presidents of the College of 

Presbyters ........ 46 

Provincial Councils 49 

Union of the Church ...... 49 

Progress of Episcopal Authority .... 50 

Pre-eminence of the Metropolian Churches . . 51 

Ambition of the Roman Pontiff ..... 52 

Laity and Clergy ....... 53 

Oblations and Revenue of the Church . . 54 

Distribution of the Revenue ..... 56 

Excommunication ....... 58 

Public Penance ........ 59 

Th p Dignity of Episcopal Government ... 60 

Recapitulation of the five Causes .... 61 

Weakness of Polytheism ...... 62 

The Scepticism of the Pagan World proved favom-- 

able to the new Religion ..... 63 

And the Peace and Union of the Roman Empire . 64 

Historical View of the Progress of Christianitv . 65 

In the East \ .65 

The Church of Antioch 67 

In Egypt 68 

In Rome 69 

In Africa and the Western Provinces ... 70 

Beyond the Limits of the Roman Empire ... 73 

General Proportion of Christians and Pagans , . 74 



TVTiether the first Christians •were mean and ignorant 75 

Some Exceptions with regard to Learning . . 75 

Some Exceptions with regard to Rank and Fortune 76 
Christianity most favourably received by the Poor 

and Simple 77 

Eejected by some eminent Men of the first and 

second Centuries ....... 77 

Their Xeglect of Prophecy 78 

Their Xeglect of Miracles ...... 79 

General Silence concerning the Darkness of the 

Passion ........ 79 



Christianity persecuted by the Pvoman Emperors . 81 
Inquiry into their ^lotives . . . . .82 

Rebellious Spirit of the Jews ..... 83 

Toleration of the Jewish Religion . . " . 84 
The Jews were a People which followed, the Christians 
a Sect which deserted, the Religion of their 

Fathers . . . ' 86 

Christianity acciised of Atheism, and mistaken by 

the People and Philosophers .... 87 

The Union and Assemblies of the Christians con- 
sidered as a dangerous Conspiracy ... 89 
Their Manners calumniated ..... 90 

Their Imprudent Defence ...... 91 

Idea of the Conduct of the Emperors towards the 

Chrisrtians ........ 93 

They neglected the Christians as a Sect of Jews . 94 
The Fire of Rome under the Reign of Xero . . 96 
Cruel Punishment of the Christians as the Incen- 
diaries of the City 97 

Remarks on the Passage of Tacitus relative to the ' 

Persecution of the Christians by Xero . . 99 

Oppression of the Jews and Christians by Domitian 103 

Execution of Clemens the Consul . '. . . 105 

Ignorance of Pliny concerning the Christians . . 106 
Trajan and his Successors establish a legal Mode of 

proceeding against them . , . . . 107 
VOL. II. a 2 



Popular Clamours 108 

Trials of the Christians . . . . ' . . 110 
Humanity of the Roman Magistrates . . . Ill 

Inconsiderable NumVjer of Martyrs .... 112 
Example of Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage . . . 114 
His Danger and Flight ...... 114 

257 His Banishment . .... 115 

His Condemnation ...... 116 

His Martyrdom . . . . , . . .117 

Various Incitements to Martyrdom . . . . 118 

Ardour of the first Christians 120 

Gradual Relaxation 122 

Three Methods of escaping Martyrdom . . . 122 
Alternatives of Severity and Toleration . . . 124 

The Ten Persecutions 124 

Supposed Edicts of Tiberius and Marcus Antoninus 125 

180 State of the Christians in the Reigns of Commodus 
and Severus 

211-249 Of the Successors of Severus 
Of Maximin, Philip, and Decius 

253-260 Of Valerian, Gallienus, and his Successors . 

260 Paul of Samosata, his IManners .... 

270 He is degraded from the See of Antioch . 

274 The Sentence is executed by Am'elian 

284-303 Peace and Prosperity of the Church under 
Diocletian . . . . . ' . 

Progress of Zeal and Superstition among the Pagan 

Maximian and Galerius punish a few Christian 

Soldiers ........ 

,' Galerius prevails on Diocletian to begin a general 

Persecution . . . . . . . . 139 

303 Demolition of the Church of Nicomedia . . . 140 
The first Edict against the Christians . . . 141 

Zeal and Punishment of a Chi'istian .... 142 
Fire of the Palace of Nicomedia imputed to the 

Christians ........ 143 

Execution of the first Edict 144 

Demolition of the Churches ..... 145 
Subsequent Edicts 146 

303-311 General Idea of the Persecution . . . . 147 

In the Western Pro-\ances, under Constantius and 
Constantine. ....... 

In Italy and Africa, under Maximian and Severus . 
And under Maxentius ...... 

In Illyricum and the East, under Galerius and 
Maximin ........ 

311 Galerius publishes an Edict of Toleration . 








Peace of the Church 152 

Maximin prepares to renew the Persecution . . 153 

313 End of the Persecutions 154 

Probable Account of the Sufferings of the Martyrs 

and Confessors ....... 155 

Number of ^lartyrs ....... 157 

Conclusion ... 159 



324 Design of a new Capital ...... 161 

Situation of Byzantium . . . . . . 162 

Description of Constantinople 103 

The Bosphorus 163 

The Port of Constantinople ..... 165 

The Propontis . 166 

The Hellespont 166 

Advantages of Constantinople 168 

Foundation of the Citv ...... 169 

Its Extent ..." 170 

Progress of the Work ...... 172 

Edifices 174 

Population 17G 

Pri\nleges ......... 17S 

330 or 334 Dedication 179 

300-500 Form of Government in the Ptoraan Empire . 180 

Hierachy of the State 181 

Three Ptanks of Honour 183 

Fo;xr Divisions of Office 183 

I. The Consuls 184 

The Patricians 186 

II. The Prtetorian Prfefects 188 

The Prsefects of Piome and Constantinople . 190 

The Proconsuls, Vice-prsefects, &c. . . 192 

The Governors of the Pro\inces . . . 193 

The Profession of the Law .... 196 

III. The :\liHtary Officers 198 

Distinction of the Troops .... 200 

Keduction of the Legions .... 202 

Difficulty of Le\'ies 203 

Increase of Barbarian Auxiliaries . . . 205 



IV. Seven Ministers of the Palace .... 207 

1. The Chamberlain 207 

2. The Master of the Offices . . . .208 

3. The Qusestor 209 

4. The Public Treasurer 210 

Kationales ....... 211 

5. The Private Treasurer 211 

6. The Counts of the Domestics .... 213 

7. Protectores 213 

Agents, or Official Spies ...... 213 

Use of Torture 214 

Finances ......... 216 

The General Tribute, or Indiction .... 217 

Assessed in the Form of a Capitation . . . 220 

Capitation on Trade and Industry .... 225 

Free Gifts 226 

Conclusion . .227 








Character of Constantine 229 

His Virtues 229 

His Vices 231 

His Family 233 

Virtues of Crispus ....... 234 

324 Jealousy of Constantine . . . . . . 235 

325 Edict of Constantine .235 

326 Disgrace and Death of Crispus 236 

The Empress Fausta 237 

The Sons and Nephews of Constantine . . . 240 

Their Education 241 

Manners of the Sarmatians 243 

Their Settlement near the Danube .... 244 

331 The Gothic War 245 

334 Expulsion of the Sarmatians 248 



337 Death and Funeral of Constantine .... 249 

Factions of the Court ...... 250 

3Iassacre of the Princes ...... 251 

337 Di^^sion of the Empire ...... 253 

310 Sapor, King of Persia 253 

State of Mesopotamia and Armenia .... 255 

342 Death of Tiridates 256 

337-360 The Persian War 257 

348 [344] Battle of Singara 257 

338, 346, 350 Siege of Nisibis 259 

340 CiWl War, and Death of Constantine . . . 261 

350 Murder of Constans 262 

Magnentius and Vetranio assume the Purple . . 264 

Constantius refuses to treat 265 

Deposes Vetranio , . . . . . . 267 

351 Makes War against Magnentius .... 269 
Battle of Mursa 271 

352 Conquest of Italy 273 

353 Last Defeat and Death of ^lagnentius . . . 274 






Power of the Eunuchs 277 

Education of G-allus and Julian .... 279 

351 Gallus declared C'gesar ...... 280 

Cruelty and Imprudence of Gallus .... 280 

354 ^Massacre of the Imperial Ministers .... 282 
Dangerous Situation of Gallus ..... 284 

His Disgrace and Death 285 

The Danger and Escape of Julian .... 287 

355 He is sent to Athens ....... 288 

Pv^called to Milan 289 

Declared Caesar . . . . . . . .291 

Fatal End of Sylvanus 293 

.357 Constantius visits Rome ...... 294 

A new Obelisk ........ 295 

357, 358, 359 The Quadian and Sarmatian War . . 296 

358 The Persian Negotiation ...... 300 

359 Invasion of Mesopotamia by Sapor .... 302 




Siege of Amida 304 

360 Siege of Singara 306 

Conduct of the Romans ' 307 

Invasion of Gaul by the Germans .... 309 

Conduct of Julian 310 

356 His first Campaign in Gaul ..... 312 

357 His second Campaign ...... 313 

Battle of Strasburg 315 

358 Julian subdues the Franks 317 

357, 358, 359 Makes three Expeditions beyond the Rhine 319 • 

Restores the Cities of Gaul 321 

Civil administration of Julian ..... 323 

Description of Paris ....... 325 




306-337 Date of the Conversion of Constantine 
His Pagan Superstition .... 

306-312 He protects the Christians of Gaul 

313 Edict of Milan 

Use and Beauty of the Christian Morality 
Theory and Practice of Passive Obedience 
Divine Right of Constantine 

324 General Edict of Toleration 

Loyalty and Zeal of the Christian Party . 
Expectation and Belief of a Miracle . 

I. The Labarum, or Standard of the Cross 

II. The Dream of Constantine 
III. Appearance of a Cross in the Sky 
The Conversion of Constantine might be sincere 
The fourth Eclogue of Virgil 
Devotion and Privileges of Constantine 
Delay of his Baptism till the approach of Death 
Propagation of Christianity 

312-438 Change of the National Religion 

Distinction of the Spiritual and Temporal Povpers 

State of the Bishops under the Christian Emperors 

I. Election of Bishops 

II, Ordination of the Clergy .... 

III. Property ....... 




IV. Ci^^l Jurisdiction 366 

Y. Spiritual Censures ...... 368 

VI. Freedom of Public Preaching .... 370 

VII. Privilege of Legislative Assemblies . . , 371 







312 African Controversy 376 

Councils of Kome and of Aries ..... 377 

315 Schism of the Donatists ...... 378 

The Trinitarian Controversy 379 


360 The System of Plato 380 

The Logos 380 

300 Taught in the Schools of Alexandria . . . 381 


97 Revealed by the Apostle St. John . . . .382 

The Ebionites and Docetes 383 

Mysterious Nature of the Trinity .... 384 

Zeal of the Christians 385 

Authority of the Church ...... 387 

Factions 388 

318 Heterodox Opinions of Arius 388 

Three Systems of the Trinity 389 

I. Arianism ........ 390 

II. Tritheisra 390 

III. Sabellianism 391 

325 Council of Nice ....... 391 

The Homoousion ....... 392 

Arian Creeds 394 

Arian Sects ........ 395 

Faith of the Western, or Latin Church . . . 398 

360 Council of Rimini 399 

Conduct of the Emperors in the Arian Controversy . .399 

324 Indifference of Constantino ..... 400 

325 His Zeal 400 



328-337 He persecutes the Arian and the Orthodox Party 401 

337-361 Constantius favours the Arians .... 403 

Arian Councils ........ 404 

Character and Adventures of Athanasius . . . 407 

330 Persecution against Athanasius .... 410 

336 His First Exile 412 

341 His Second Exile 413 

349 His Kestoration ....... 415 

351 Resentment of Constantius ..... 417 

353-355 Councils of Aries and Milan .... 418 

355 Condemnation of Athanasius ..... 420 
Exiles . . . . . . . . .422 

356 Third Expulsion of Athanasius from Alexandria . 423 
His Behaviour 426 

356-362 His Retreat 427 

Ai'ian Bishops 430 

Divisions ......... 430 

I. Rome 432 

II. Constantinople ....... 433 

Cruelty of the Arians ...... 436 

354, &c. The Revolt and Fury of the Donatist Circum- 

cellions 438 

Their Religious Suicides ...... 440 

312-361 General Character of the Christian Sects . . 441 
Toleration of Paganism by Constantine . . .441 

By his Sons 443 



The Jealousy of Constantius against Julian . . 447 
Fears and Envy of Constantius .... 448 

860 The Legions of Gaul are ordered to march into the 

East 449 

Their Discontents ....... 451 

They proclaim Julian Emperor ..... 452 

His protestations of Innocence ..... 454 

His Embassy to Constantius ..... 456 

360-361 His fourth and fifth Expeditions beyond the 

Rhine 457 

361 Fruitless Treaty and Declaration of War . . .459 



Julian prepares to attack Constantius . . . 461 

His march from the Rhine into Illyricum , . 463 

He justifies his Cause ...... 466 

Hostile Preparations 467 

361 Death of Constantius 469 

361 Julian enters Constantinople ..... 470 

361 Is acknowledged by the whole Empire . . . 471 

His civil Government and private Life . . . 471 

Reformation of the Palace ...... 474 

Chamber of Justice ....... 476 

Pnnishment of the Innocent and the Guilty . . 477 

Clemency of Julian ....... 479 

His Love of Freedom and the Repubhc . . . 480 

His care of the Grecian Cities ..... 482 

•Julian, an Orator and a Judge ..... 483 

His Character 484 






Religion of Julian ....... 486 

3.51 His Education and Apostacy ..... 487 

He embraces the Mvthology of Paganism . . . 490 

The Allegories . " 491 

Theological System of Julian ..... 493 

Fanaticism of the Philosophers ..... 494 

Initiation and Fanaticism of Julian .... 493 

His religious Dissimulation ..... 497 

He writes against Christianity ..... 499 

361 Universal Toleration ....... .500 

;361-363 Zeal and Devotion of .Julian in the Restoration 

of Paganism 502 

Preformation of Paganism ...... 504 

The Philosophers ....... .506 

Conversions ........ 508 

The .Jews ......... 510 

Description of .Jerusalem 511 

Pilgrimages . . . . . . . . .512 

363 .Julian attempts to rebuild the Temple . . 514 



The Enterprise is defeated 516 

Perhaps by a preternatural Event .... 517 

Partiality of Julian . . . . . . . 518 

He prohibits the Christians from teaching Schools . 519 

Disgrace and Oppression of the Christians . . 520 

They are condemned to restore the Pagan Temples . 521 

The Temple and sacred Grove of Daphne . . . 523 

Neglect and Profanation of Daphne .... 525 

362 Removal of the dead Bodies, and Conflagration of 

the Temple 526 

Julian shuts the Cathedral of Antioch . . . 527 
George of Cappadocia oppresses Alexandria and 

Egypt 528 

361 He is massacred by the People 530 

He is worshipped as a Saint and Martyr . . . 531 

362 Restoration of Athanasius 532 

He is persecuted and expelled by Juhan . . . 533 

361-363 Zeal and Imprudence of the Christians . . 535 






The Caesars of Julian 538 

362 He resolves to march against the Persians . . 539 
Julian proceeds from Constantinople to Antioch . 541 
Licentious manners of the People of Antioch . 541 

Their Aversion to Julian 543 

Scarcity of Corn, and public Discontient . . . 543 

Julian composes a Satire against Antioch . . . 545 

314-390 The Sophist Libanius 546 

363 March of Julian to the Euphrates .... 548 

His design of invading Persia ..... 549 

Disaffection of the King of Armenia .... 550 

Military Preparations ...... 551 

Julian enters the Persian Territories . , . 552 

His March over the Desert of Mesopotamia . . 553 

His Success 555 

Description of Assyria 556 

363 Invasion of Assyria ...,..• 558 




Siege of Perisabor 558 

Siege of Maogamalcha ...... 559 

Personal Beha\'iour of Julian ..... 561 

He transports his Fleet from the Euphrates to the 

Tigris . . . 564 

Passage of the Tigris and Victory of the Romans . 566 

Situation and Obstinacy of Julian .... 568 

He burns his Fleet . ...... 571 

Marches against Sapor ...... 573 

Eetreat and Distress of the Roman Army . . 575 

Julian is mortally wounded ..... 577 

363 Death of Julian 579 

Election of the Emperor Jovian .... 581 
Danger and Difficulty of the Retreat . . . 584 
Negotiation and Treaty of Peace .... 586 
The Weakness and Disgrace of Jovian . . , . 588 
He continues his Retreat to Xisibis .... 589 
Universal Clamour against the Treaty of Peace . 591 
Jovian evacuates Xisibis, and restores the five Pro- 
vinces to the Persians 592 

Reflections on the Death of .Julian .... 594 

On his Funeral 596 







A CANDID but rational inquiry into the progress and 
establishment of Christianity may be considered as a 
very essential part of the history of the Roman empire. 
While that great body was invaded by open violence, 
or undermined by slow decay^ a pure and humble 
religion gently insinuated itself into the minds of men^ 
grew up in silence and obscurity, derived new vigour 
from opposition, and finally erected the triumphant 
banner of the cross on the ruins of the Capitol. Nor 
was the influence of Christianity confined to the period 
or to the limits of the Roman empire. After a revolu- 
tion of thirteen or fourteen centuries, that religion is 
still professed by the nations of Europe, the most 
distinguished portion of human kind in arts and 
learning as well as in arms. By the industry and 
zeal of the Europeans it has been widely diffused to 
the most distant shores of Asia and Africa ; and by 
the means of their colonies has been firmly established 



from Canada to Chili, in a world unknown to the 


But this inquiry, however useful or entertaining, is 
attended with two peculiar difficulties. The scanty 
and suspicious materials of ecclesiastical history seldom 
enable us to dispel the dark cloud that hangs over the 
first age of the church. The great law of impartiality 
too often obliges us to reveal the imperfections of the 
uninspired teachers and believers of the gospel ; and, 
to a careless observer, their faults may seem to cast a 
shade on the faith which they professed. But the 
scandal of the pious Christian, and the fallacious 
triumph of the Infidel, should cease as soon as they 
recollect not only by whom, but likewise to whom, the 
Divine Revelation was given. The theologian may 
indulge the pleasing task of describing Religion as 
she descended from Heaven, arrayed in her native 
purity. A more melancholy duty is imposed on the 
historian. He must discover the inevitable mixture 
of error and corruption which she contracted in a long 
residence upon earth, among a weak and degenerate 
race of beings. 

Our curiosity is naturally prompted to inquire by 
what means the Christian faith obtained so remarkable 
a victory over the established religions of the earth. 
To this inquiry, an obvious but satisfactory answer 
may be returned ; that it was owing to the convincing 
evidence of the doctrine itself, and to the ruling provi- 
dence of its great Author. But, as truth and reason 
seldom find so favourable a reception in the world, and 
as the wisdom of Providence frequently condescends 
to use the passions of the human heart, and the general 
circumstances of mankind, as instruments to execute 
its purpose ; we may still be permitted, though with 
becoming submission, to ask not indeed what were the 
first, but what were the secondary causes of the rapid 
growth of the Christian church. It will, perhaps, ap- 
pear that it was most effectually favoured and assisted 
by the five following causes : I. The inflexible, and, if 
we may use the expression, the intolerant zeal of the 


Christians, derived, it is true, from the Jewish religion, 
but purified from the narrow and unsocial spirit which, 
instead of inviting, had deterred the Gentiles from 
embracing the law of Moses. II. The doctrine of a 
future life, improved by every additional circumstance 
which couid give weight and efficacy to that important 
truth. III. The miraculous powers ascribed to the 
primitive church. IV. The pure and austere morals 
of the Christians. V. The union and discipline of the 
Christian republic, which gradually formed an inde- 
pendent and increasing state in the heart of the Roman 

I. We have already described the religious harmony 
of the ancient world, and the facility with which the 
most different and even hostile nations embraced, or 
at least respected, each other's superstitions. A single 
people refused to join in the common intercourse of 
mankind. The Jews, who, under the Assyrian and 
Persian monarchies, had languished for many ages the 
most despised portion of their slaves, emerged from 
obscurity under the successors of Alexander ; and, as 
they multiplied to a surprising degree in the East, and 
afterwards in the West, they soon excited the curiosity 
and wonder of other nations. The sullen obstinacy 
with which they maintained their peculiar rites and 
unsocial manners seemed to mark them out a distinct 
species of men, who boldly professed, or who faintly 
disguised, their implacable hatred to the rest of human 
kind. Neither the violence of Antiochus, nor the arts 
of Herod, nor the example of the circumjacent nations, 
could ever persuade the Jews to associate with the 
institutions of Moses the elegant mythology of the 
Greeks.^ According to the maxims of universal tolera- 
tion, the Romans protected a superstition which they 
despised. The polite Augustus condescended to give 

1 A Jewish sect, which indulged themselves in a sort of occa- 
sional conformity, derived from Herod, by whose example and 
authority they had been seduced, the name of Herodians. But 
their numbers were so inconsiderable, and their duration so 
short, that Josephus has not thought them worthy of his notice 


orders that sacrifices should be offered for his pros- 
perity in the temple of Jerusalem ; ^ while the meanest 
of the posterity of Abraham, who should have paid the 
same homage to the Jupiter of the Capitol, would have 
been an object of abhorrence to himself and to his 
brethren. But the moderation of the conquerors was 
insufficient to appease the jealous prejudices of their 
subjects, who were alarmed and scandalised at the 
ensigns of paganism, which necessarily introduced 
themselves into a Roman province. The mad attempt 
of Caligula to place his own statue in the temple of 
Jerusalem was defeated by the unanimous resolution 
of a people who dreaded death much less than such an 
idolatrous profanation. 3 Their attachment to the law 
of Moses was equal to their detestation of foreign 
religions. The current of zeal and devotion, as it 
was contracted into a narrow channel, ran with the 
strength, and sometimes with the fury, of a torrent. 

This inflexible perseverance, which appeared so 
odious, or so ridiculous, to the ancient world, assumes 
a more awful character, since Providence has deigned 
to reveal to us the mysterious history of the chosen 
people. But the devout, and even scrupulous, attach- 
ment to the Mosaic religion, so conspicuous among 
the Jews who lived under the second temple, becomes 
still more surprising, if it is compared with the stubborn 
incredulity of their forefathers. When the law was 
given in thunder from Mount Sinai ; when the tides 
of the ocean and the course of the planets were sus- 
pended for the convenience of the Israelites ; and 
when temporal rewards and punishments were the 
immediate consequences of their piety or disobedience ; 

2 Augustus left a foundation for a perpetual sacrifice. Yet 
he approved of the neglect which his grandson Caius expressed 
towards the temple of Jerusalem. 

3 Philo and Josephus gave a very circumstantial, but a very 
rhetorical, account of this transaction, which exceedingly per- 
plexed the governor of Syria. At the first mention of this 
idolatrous proposal, King Agrippa fainted away ; and did not 
recover his senses till the third day. 


they perpetually relapsed into rebellion against the 
visible majesty of their Divine King, placed the idols 
of the nations in the sanctuary of Jehovah, and imi- 
tated every fantastic ceremony that was practised in 
the tents of the Arabs or in the cities of Phoenicia.* As 
the protection of Heaven was deservedly withdrawn 
from the ungrateful race, their faith acquired a pro- 
portionable degree of vigour and purity. The contem- 
poraries of Moses and Joshua had beheld, with careless 
indifference, the most amazing miracles. Under the 
pressure of every calamity, the belief of those miracles 
has preserved the Jews of a later period from the uni- 
versal contagion of idolatry ; and, in contradiction to 
every known principle of the human mind, that singular 
people seems to have yielded a stronger and more 
ready assent to the traditions of their remote ancestors 
than to the evidence of their own senses.^ 

The Jewish religion was admirably fitted for defence, 
but it was never designed for conquest ; and it seems 
probable that the number of proselytes was never 
much superior to that of apostates. The divine 
promises were originally made, and the distinguishing 
rite of circumcision was enjoined, to a single family. 
When the posterity of Abraham had multiplied like 
the sands of the sea, the Deity, from whose mouth 
they received a system of laws and ceremonies, de- 
clared himself the proper and, as it were, the national 
God of Israel ; and, with the most jealous care, 
separated his favourite people from the rest of man- 
kind. The conquest of the land of Canaan was 
accompanied with so many wonderful and with so 
many bloody circumstances that the victorious Jews 

4 For the enumeration of the Syrian and Arabkn deities, it 
may be observed that Milton has comprised, in one hundred and 
thirty very beautiful lines, the two large and learned syntagmas 
which Selden had composed on that abstruse subject. 

^ "How long will this people provoke me? and how long 
will it be ere they believe, me, for all the signs which I have 
shown among them?" (Numbers, xiv. ii). It would be easy, 
but it would be unbecoming, to justify the complaint of the 
Deity, from the whole tenor of the Mosaic history. 


were left in a state of irreconcilable hostility with all 
their neighbours. They had been commanded to 
extirpate some of the most idolatrous tribes ; and the 
execution of the Divine will had seldom been retarded 
by the weakness of humanity. With the other nations 
they were forbidden to contract any marriages or 
alliances ; and the prohibition of receiving them into 
the congregation, which^ in some cases^ was perpetual, 
almost always extended to the third, to the seventh, 
or even to the tenth generation. The obligation of 
preaching to the Gentiles the faith of Moses had 
never been inculcated as a precept of the law, nor 
were the Jews inclined to impose it on themselves as 
a voluntary duty. In the admission of new citizens, 
that unsocial people was actuated by the selfish vanity 
of the Greeks, rather than by the generous policy of 
Rome. The descendants of Abraham were flattered 
by the opinion that they alone were the heirs of the 
covenant ; and they were apprehensive of diminishing 
the value of their inheritance, by sharing it too easily 
with the strangers of the earth. A larger acquaint- 
ance with mankind extended their knowledge without 
correcting their prejudices ; and, whenever the God 
of Israel acquired any new votaries, he was much 
more indebted to the inconstant humour of polytheism 
than to the active zeal of his own missionaries. The 
religion of Moses seems to be instituted for a particular 
country, as well as for a single nation ; and, if a strict 
obedience had been paid to the order that every male, 
three times in the year, should present himself before 
the Lord Jehovah, it would have been impossible that 
the Jews could ever have spread themselves beyond 
the narrow limits of the promised land. That obstacle 
was indeed removed by the destruction of the temple 
of Jerusalem ; but the most considerable part of the 
Jewish religion was involved in its destruction ; and 
the Pagans, who had long wondered at the strange 
report of an empty sanctuary, were at a loss to discover 
what could be the object, or what could be the 
instruments, of a worship which was destitute of 


temples and of altars, of priests and of sacrifices. Yet 
even in their fallen state, the Jews, still asserting 
their lofty and exclusive privileges, shunned, instead 
of courting, the society of strangers. They still in- 
^lsted with inflexible rigour on those parts of the 
law vrhich it was in their power to practise. Their 
peculiar distinctions of days, of meats, and a variety 
of trivial though burdensome observances, were so 
many objects of disgust and aversion for the other 
nations, to whose habits and prejudices they were 
diametrically opposite. The painful and even danger- 
ous rite of circumcision was alone capable of repelling 
a willing proselyte from the door of the synagogue. 

Under these circumstances, Christianity offered 
itself to the world, armed with the strength of the 
Mosaic law, and delivered from the weight of its 
fetters. An exclusive zeal for the truth of religion 
and the unity of God was as carefully inculcated in 
the new as in the ancient system ; and whatever was 
now revealed to mankind, concerning the nature and 
designs of the Supreme Being, was fitted to increase 
their reverence for that mysterious doctrine. The 
divine authority of Moses and the prophets was 
admitted, and even established, as the firmest basis 
of Christianity. From the beginning of the world, 
an uninterrupted series of predictions had announced 
and prepared the long expected coming of the Messiah, 
who, in compliance with the gross apprehensions of 
the Jews, had been more frequently represented under 
the character of a King and Conqueror, than under 
that of a Prophet, a Martyr, and the Son of God. 
By his expiatory sacrifice, the imperfect sacrifices of 
the temple were at once consummated and abolished. 
The ceremonial law, which consisted only of types 
and figures, was succeeded by a pure and spiritual 
worship, equally adapted to all climates, as well as to 
every condition of mankind ; and to the initiation of 
blood was substituted a more harmless initiation of 
water. The promise of divine favour, instead of being 
partially confined to the posterity of Abraham, was 


universally proposed to the freeman and the slave^ to 
the Greek and to the barbarian, to the Jew and to 
the Gentile. Every privilege that could raise the 
proselyte from earth to Heaven, that could exalt his 
devotion, secure his happiness, or even gratify that 
secret pride which, under the semblance of devotion, 
insinuates itself into the human heart, was still 
reserved for the members of the Christian church ; 
but at the same time all mankind was permitted, and 
even solicited, to accept the glorious distinction, which 
was not only proffered as a favour, but imposed as an 
obligation. It became the most sacred duty of a new 
convert to diffuse among his friends and relations the 
inestimable blessing which he had received, and to 
warn them against a refusal that would be severely 
punished as a criminal disobedience to the will of a 
benevolent but all-powerful deity. 

The enfranchisement of the church from the bonds 
of the synagogue was a work, however, of some time 
and of some difficulty. The Jewish converts, who 
acknowledged Jesus in the character of the Messiah 
foretold by their ancient oracles, respected him as a 
prophetic teacher of virtue and religion;' but they 
obstinately adhered to the ceremonies of their ances- 
tors, and were desirous of imposing them on the 
Gentiles, who continually augmented the number of 
believers. These Judaising Christians seem to have 
argued with some degree of plausibility from the 
divine origin of the Mosaic law, and from the immut- 
able perfections of its great Author. They affirmed 
that, if the Being, who is the same through all eternity, 
had designed to abolish those sacred rites which had 
served to distinguish his chosen people, the repeal of 
them would have been no less clear and solemn than 
their first promulgation : that, instead of those frequent 
declarations, which either suppose or assert the per- 
petuity of the Mosaic religion, it would have been 
represented as a provisionary scheme intended to last 
only till the coming of the Messiah, who should instruct 
mankind in a more perfect mode of faith and of wor- 


ship : that the Messiah himself, and his disciples who 
conversed with him on earth, instead of authorising 
by their example the most minute observances of the 
Mosaic law, would have published to the world the 
abolition of those useless and obsolete ceremonies, 
without suffering Christianity to remain during so 
many years obscurely confounded among the sects of 
the Jewish church. Arguments like these appear to 
have been used in the defence of the expiring cause 
of the Mosaic law ; but the industry of our learned 
divines has abundantly explained the ambiguous lan- 
guage of the Old Testament, and the ambiguous conduct 
of the apostolic teachers. It was proper gradually to 
unfold the system of the Gospel, and to pronounce, 
with the utmost caution and tenderness, a sentence 
of condemnation so repugnant to the inclination and 
prejudices of the believing Jews. 

The history of the church of Jerusalem affords a 
lively proof of the necessity of those precautions, and 
of the deep impression which the Jewish religion had 
made on the minds of its sectaries. The first fifteen 
bishops of Jerusalem were all circumcised Jews ; and 
the congregation over which they presided, united the 
law of Moses with the doctrine of Christ. It was 
natural that the primitive tradition of a church which 
was founded only forty years after the death of Christ, 
and was governed almost as many years under the 
immediate inspection of his apostle, should be received 
as the standard of orthodoxy. The distant churches 
very frequently appealed to the authority of their 
venerable Parent, and relieved her distresses by a 
liberal contribution of alms. But, when numerous 
and opulent societies were established in the great 
cities of the empire, in Antioch, Alexandria, Ephesus, 
Corinth, and Rome, the reverence which Jerusalem 
had inspired to all the Christian colonies insensibly 
diminished. The Jewish converts, or, as they were 
afterwards called, the Nazarenes, who had laid the 
foundations of the church, soon found themselves 
overwhelmed by the increasing multitudes that from 

VOL. II. A ') 


all the various religions of polytheism inlisted under 
the banner of Christ ; and the Gentiles, who with the 
approbation of their peculiar apostle had rejected the 
intolerable weight of Mosaic ceremonies, at length 
refused to their more scrupulous brethren the same 
toleration which at first they had humbly solicited for 
their own practice. The ruin of the temple, of the 
city, and of the public religion of the Jews, was 
severely felt by the Nazarenes ; as in their manners, 
though not in their faith, they maintained so intimate 
a connection with their impious countrymen, whose 
misfortunes were attributed by the Pagans to the 
contempt, and more justly ascribed by the Christians 
to the wrath, of the Supreme Deity. The Nazarenes 
retired from the ruins of Jerusalem to the little town 
of Pella beyond the Jordan, where that ancient church 
languished above sixty years in solitude and obscurity.^ 
They still enjoyed the comfort of making frequent and 
devout visits to the Holy City, and the hope of being 
one day restored to those seats which both nature and 
religion taught them to love as well as to revere. But 
at length, under the reign of Hadrian, the desperate 
fanaticism of the Jews filled up the measure of their 
calamities ; and the Romans, exasperated by their 
repeated rebellions, exercised the rights of victory 
with unusual rigour. The emperor founded, under 
the name of ^lia Capitolina, a new city on Mount 
Sion,7 to which he gave the privileges of a colony ; 
and, denouncing the severest penalties against any of 
the Jewish people who should dare to approach its 
precincts, he fixed a vigilant garrison of a Roman cohort 
to enforce the execution of his orders. The Nazarenes 

s During this occasional absence, the bishop and church of 
Pella still retained the title of Jerusalem. In the same manner, 
the Roman pontiffs resided seventy years at Avignon ; and the 
patriarchs of Alexandria have long since transferred their epis- 
copal seat to Cairo. 

'' The exile of the Jewish nation from Jerusalem is attested 
by Aristo of Pella (apud Euseb. 1. iv. c. 6), and is mentioned by 
several ecclesiastical vi^riters ; though some of them too hastily 
extend this interdiction to the whole country of Palestine. 


had only one way left to escape the common proscrip- 
tion, and the force of truth was, on this occasion, 
assisted by the influence of temporal advantages. They 
elected Marcus for their bishop, a prelate of the race 
of the Gentiles, and most probably a native either of 
Italy or of some of the Latin provinces. At his per- 
suasion, the most considerable part of the congregation 
renounced the Mosaic law, in the practice of which 
they had persevered above a century. By this sacrifice 
of their habits and prejudices they purchased a free 
admission into the colony of Hadrian, and more firmly 
cemented their union with the Catholic church. 

WTien the name and honours of the church of 
Jerusalem had been restored to Mount Sion, the 
crimes of heresy and schism were imputed to the 
obscure remnant of the Nazarenes which refused to 
accompany their Latin bishop. They still preserved 
their former habitation of Pella, spread themselves 
into the villages adjacent to Damascus, and formed 
an inconsiderable church in the city of Bercea, or, as 
it is now called, of Aleppo, in Syria. ^ The name of 
Nazarenes was deemed too honourable for those 
Christian Jews, and they soon received from the 
supposed poverty of their understanding, as well as 
of their condition, the contemptuous epithet of 
Ebionites.^ In a few years after the return of the 
church of Jerusalem, it became a matter of doubt and 
controversy whether a man who sincerely acknow- 
ledged Jesus as the Messiah, but who still continued 
to observe the law of Moses, could possibly hope for 

' Le Clerc (Hist. Ecclesiast. pp. 477, 535) seems to have col- 
lected from Eusebius, Jerome, Epiphanius, and other writers, 
all the principal circumstances that relate to the Nazarenes, or 
Ebionites. The nature of their opinions soon divided them 
into a stricter and a milder sect ; and there is some reason to 
conjecture that the family of Jesus Christ remained members, 
at least, of the latter and more moderate party. 

9 Some writers have been pleased to create an Ebion, the 
Imaginary author of their sect and name. But we can more 
safely rely on the learned Eusebius than on the vehement 
Tertullian or the credulous Epiphaniias. 


salvation. The humane temper of Justin Martyr in- 
clined him to answer this question in the affirmative ; 
and, though he expressed himself with the most 
guarded diffidence, he ventured to determine in favour 
of such an imperfect Christian, if he were content to 
practise the Mosaic ceremonies, without pretending 
to assert their general use or necessity. But, when 
Justin was pressed to declare the sentiment of the 
church, he confessed that there were very many 
among the orthodox Christians, who not only ex- 
cluded their Judaising brethren from the hope of 
salvation, hut who declined any intercourse with them 
in the common offices of friendship, hospitality, and 
social life. The more rigorous opinion prevailed, as 
it was natural to expect, over the milder ; and an 
external bar of separation was fixed between the 
disciples of Moses and those of Christ. The unfor- 
tunate Ebionites, rejected from one religion as 
apostates, and from the other as heretics, found them- 
selves compelled to assume a more decided character ; 
and, although some traces of that obsolete sect may 
be discovered as late as the fourth century, they 
insensibly melted away either into the church or the 

While the orthodox church preserved a just medium 
between excessive veneration and improper contempt 
for the law of Moses, the various heretics deviated into 
equal but opposite extremes of error and extravagance. 
From the acknowledged truth of the Jewish religion 
the Ebionites had concluded that it could never be 

10 Of all the systems of Christianity, that of Abyssinia is the 
only one which still adheres to the Mosaic rites. The eunuch 
of the queen Candace might suggest some suspicions ; but, as 
we are assured that the Ethiopians were not converted till the 
fourth century, it is more reasonable to believe that they re- 
spected the Sabbath, and distinguished the forbidden meats, in 
imitation of the Jews, who, in a very early period, were seated 
on both sides of the Red Sea. Circumcision had been prac- 
tised by the most ancient .Ethiopians, from motives of health 
and cleanliness, which seem to be explained in the Recherches 
Philosophiques sur les Am^ricains, tom. ii. p. 117. 


abolished. From its supposed imperfections the Gnos- 
tics as hastily inferred that it never was instituted by 
the wisdom of the Deity. There are some objections 
against the authority of Moses and the prophets, which 
too readily present themselves to the sceptical mind ; 
though they can only be derived from our ignorance 
of remote antiquity, and from our incapacity to form 
an adequate judgment of the divine oeconomy. These 
objections were eagerly embraced, and as petulantly 
urged, by the vain science of the Gnostics. As those 
heretics were, for the most part, averse to the pleasures 
of sense, they morosely arraigned the polygamy of the 
patriarchs, the gallantries of David, and the seraglio 
of Solomon. The conquest of the land of Canaan, and 
the extirpation of the unsuspecting natives, they were 
at a loss how to reconcile with the common notions of 
humanity and justice. But, when they recollected the 
sanguinary list of murders, of executions, and of massa- 
cres, which stain almost every page of the Jewish annals, 
they ackno^'ledged that the barbarians of Palestine 
had exercised as much compassion towards their idola- 
trous enemies as they had ever shown to their friends 
or countrymen. Passing from the sectaries of the law 
to the law itself, they asserted that it was impossible 
that a religion which consisted only of bloody sacrifices 
and trifling ceremonies, and whose rewards as well as 
punishments were all of a carnal and temporal nature, 
could inspire the love of virtue, or restrain that im- 
petuosity of passion. The Mosaic account of the crea- 
tion and' fall of man wai treated with profane derision 
by the Gnostics, who would not listen with patience to 
the repose of the Deity after six days' labour, to the 
rib of Adam, the garden of Eden, the trees of life and 
of knowledge, the speaking serpent, the forbidden 
fruit, and the condemnation pronounced against human 
kind for the venial offence of their first progenitors. 
The God of Israel was impiously represented by the 
Gnostics as a being liable to passion and to error, 
capricious in his favour, implacable in his resentment, 
meanly jealous of his superstitious worship, and con- 


fining his partial providence to a single people and to 
this transitory life. In such a character they could 
discover none of the features of the wise and omnipo- 
tent father of the universe. ^^ They allowed that the 
religion of the Jews was somewhat less criminal than 
the idolatry of the Gentiles ; but it was their funda- 
mental doctrine that the Christ whom they adored as 
the first and brightest emanation of the Deity appeared 
upon earth to rescue mankind from their various errors, 
and to reveal a new system of truth and perfection. 
The most learned of the fathers, by a very singular 
condescension, have imprudently admitted the sophistry 
of the Gnostics. Acknowledging that the literal sense 
is repugnant to every principle of faith as well as 
reason, they deem themselves secure and invulnerable 
behind the ample veil of allegory, which they carefully 
spread over every tender part of the Mosaic dispen- 

It has been remarked, with more ingenuity than 
truth, that the virgin purity of the church was never 
violated by schism or heresy before the reign of Trajan 
or Hadrian, about one hundred years after the death 
of Christ. We may observe, with much more pro- 
priety, that, during that period, the disciples of the 
Messiah were indulged in a freer latitude both of faith 
and practice than has ever been allowed in succeeding 
ages. As the terms of communion were insensibly 
narrowed, and the spiritual authority of the prevailing 
party was exercised with increasing severity, many of 
its most respectable adherents, who were called upon 
to renounce, were provoked to assert, their private 
opinions, to pursue the consequences of their mistaken 
principles, and openly to erect the standard of rebellion 
against the unity of the church. The Gnostics were 

11 The milder Gnostics considered Jehovah, the Creator, as a 
Being of a mixed nature between God and the Daemon. Others 
confounded him with the evil principle. Consult the second 
century of the general history of Mosheim, which gives a very 
distinct, though concise, account of their strange opinions on 
this subject 


distingTiished as the most polite, the most learned, and 
the most wealthy of the Christian name^ and that 
g-eneral appellation which expressed a superiority of 
knowledge was either assumed by their own pride or 
ironically bestowed by the envy of their adversaries. 
They were almost without exception of the race of the 
Gentiles, and their principal founders seem to have 
been natives of Syria or Egypt, where the warmth of 
the climate disposes both the mind and the body to 
indolent and contemplative devotion. The Gnostics 
blended with the faith of Christ many sublime but 
obscure tenets which they derived from oriental philo- 
sophy, and even from the religion of Zoroaster, con- 
cerning the eternity of matter, the existence of two 
principles, and the mysterious hierarchy of the invisible 
world. As soon as they launched out into that vast 
abyss, they delivered themselves to the guidance of a 
disordered imagination ; and, as the paths of error are 
various and infinite, the Gnostics were imperceptibly 
divided into more than fifty particular sects, of whom 
the most celebrated appear to have been the Basilidians, 
the Valentinians, the Marcionites, and, in a still later 
period, the Manichasans. Each of these sects could 
boast of its bishops and congregations, of its doctors 
and martyrs, and, instead of the four gospels adopted 
by the church, the heretics produced a multitude of 
histories, in which the actions and discourses of Christ 
and of his apostles were adapted to their respective 
tenets.12 xhe success of the Gnostics was rapid and 
extensive. They covered Asia and Egypt, established 

12 See a very remarkable passage of Origen (Proem, ad 
Lucam). That indefatigable writer, who had consumed his 
life in the study of the scriptures, relies for their authenticity on 
the inspired authority of the church. It was impossible that 
the Gnostics could receive our present gospels, many parts of 
which (particularly in the resurrection of Christ) are directly, 
and as it might seem designedly, pointed against their favourite 
tenets. It is therefore somewhat singular that Ignatius (Epist. 
ad Smyrn. Patr. Apostol. tom. ii. p. 34) should choose to em- 
ploy a vague and doubtful tradition, instead of quoting the 
certain testimony of the evangelists. 


themselves in Rome, and sometimes penetrated into 
tlie provinces of the West. For the most part they 
arose in the second century, flourished during the 
third, and were suppressed in the fourth or fifth, by 
the prevalence of more fashionable controversies, and 
by the superior ascendant of the reigning power. 
Though they constantly disturbed the peace, and fre- 
quently disgraced the name, of religion, they contri- 
buted to assist rather than to retard the progress of 
Christianity. The Gentile converts, whose strongest 
objections and prejudices were directed against the 
law of Moses, could find admission into many Christian 
societies, which required not from their untutored 
mind any belief of an antecedent revelation. Their 
faith was insensibly fortified and enlarged, and the 
church was ultimately benefited by the conquests of 
its most inveterate enemies. ^^ 

But, whatever diff'erence of opinion might subsist 
between the Orthodox, the Ebionites, and the 
Gnostics, concerning the divinity or the obligation of 
the Mosaic law, they were all equally animated by the 
same exclusive zeal and by the same abhorrence for 
idolatry which had distinguished the Jews from the 
other nations of the ancient world. The philosopher, 
who considered the system of polytheism as a com- 
position of human fraud and error, could disguise a 
smile of contempt under the mask of devotion, without 
apprehending that either the mockery or the com- 
pliance would expose him to the resentment of any 
invisible, or, as he conceived them, imaginary powers. 
But the established religions of Paganism were seen 
by the primitive Christians in a much more odious and 
formidable light. It was the universal sentiment both 
of the church and of heretics that the daemons were 
the authors, the patrons, and the objects of idolatry. 
Tliose rebellious spirits who had been degraded from 
the rank of angels, and cast down into the in- 

13 Augustin is a memorable instance of this gradual progress 
from reason to faith. He was, during several years, engaged 
in the Manichasan sect. 


fernal pit, were still permitted to roam upon earth, to 
torment the bodies, and to seduce the minds, of sinful 
men. The daemons soon discovered and abused the 
natural propensity of the human heart towards de- 
votion, and, artfully withdrawing the adoration of 
mankind from their Creator, they usurped the place 
and honours of the Supreme Deity. By the success of 
their malicious contrivances, they at once gratified 
their own vanity and revenge, and obtained the only 
comfort of which they were yet susceptible, the hope 
of involving the human species in the participation of 
their guilt and misery. It was confessed, or at least it 
was imagined, that they had distributed among them- 
selves the most important characters of pol\i;heism, 
one dasmon assuming the name and attributes of 
Jupiter, another of iEsculapius, a third of Venus, and 
a fourth perhaps of Apollo ; ^^ and that, by the advantage 
of their long experience and aerial nature, they were 
enabled to execute, with sufficient skill and dignity, 
the parts which they had undertaken. They lurked 
in the temples, instituted festivals and sacrifices, 
invented fables, pronounced oracles, and were fre- 
quently allowed to perform miracles. The Christians, 
who, by the interposition of evil spirits, could so 
readily explain every praeternatural appearance, were 
disposed and even desirous to admit the most extrava- 
gant fictions of the Pagan mythology. But the belief 
of the Christian was accompanied with horror. The 
most trifling mark of respect to the national worship he 
considered as a direct homage yielded to the daemon, 
and as an act of rebellion against the majesty of God. 

In consequence of this opinion, it was the first but 
arduous duty of a Christian to preserve himself pure 
and undefiled by the practice of idolatry. The religion 
of the nations was not merely a speculative doctrine 
professed in the schools or preached in the temples. 
The innumerable deities and rites of polytheism were 

1* TertuUian (Apolog. c. 23) alleges the confession of the 
Daemons themselves as often as they were tormented by the 
Christian exorcists. 


closely interwoven with every circumstance of business 
or pleasure, of public or of private life ; and it seemed 
impossible to escape the observance of them_, without, 
at the same time, renouncing the commerce of man- 
kind and all the offices and amusements of society.^^ 
The important transactions of peace and war were 
prepared or concluded by solemn sacrifices, in which 
the magistrate, the senator, and the soldier were 
obliged to preside or to participate.^^ The public 
spectacles were an essential part of the cheerful de- 
votion of the Pagans, and the gods were supposed to 
accept, as the most grateful offering, the games that 
the prince and people celebrated in honour of their 
peculiar festivals.^^ The Christian, who with pious 
horror avoided the abomination of the circus or the 
theatre, found himself encompassed with infernal 
snares in every convivial entertainment, as often as his 
friends, invoking the hospitable deities, poured out 
libations to each other^s happiness.^* When the bride, 
struggling with well-affected reluctance, was forced 
in hjinenaeal pomp over the thresliold of her new 
habitation, or when the sad procession of the dead 
slowly moved towards the funeral pile ; ^^ the Christian, 

ifi TertuUian has written a most severe treatise against idolatry, 
to caution his brethren against the hourly danger of incurring 
that guilt. Recogita silvam, et quantae latitant spinae. De 
Coron^ Militis, c. lo. 

18 The Roman senate was always held in a temple or conse- 
crated place. Before they entered on business, every senator 
dropped some wine and frankincense on the altar. 

i' See TertuUian, De Spectaculis. This severe reformer shows 
no more indulgence to a tragedy of Euripides than to a combat 
of gladiators. The dress of the actors particularly offends him. 
By the use of the lofty buskin, they impiously strive to add a 
cubit to their stature, c. 23. 

18 The ancient practice of concluding the entertainment with 
libations may be found in every classic. 

19 The ancient funerals (in those of Misenus and Pallas) are 
no less accurately described by Virgil than they are illustrated 
by his commentator Servius. The pile itself was an altar, the 
flames were fed with the blood of victims, and all the assistants 
were sprinkled with lustral water; 


on these interesting' occasions, was compelled to desert 
the persons who were the dearest to him, rather than 
contract the guilt inherent to those impious cere- 
monies. Every art and every trade that was in the 
least concerned in the framing or adorning of idols 
was polluted by a stain of idolatry ; a severe sentence, 
since it devoted to eternal misery the far greater part 
of the community, which is employed in the exercise 
of liberal or mechanic professions. If we cast our 
eyes over the numerous remains of antiquity, we shall 
perceive that, besides the immediate representations of 
the Gods and the holy instruments of their worship, 
the elegant forms and agreeable fictions, consecrated 
by the imagination of the Greeks, were introduced as 
the richest ornaments of the houses, the dress, and 
the furniture, of the Pagans. Even the arts of music 
and painting, of eloquence and poetry, flowed from the 
same impure origin. In the style of the fathers, 
Apollo and the Muses were the organs of the infernal 
spirit. Homer and Virgil were the most eminent of his 
servants, and the beautiful mythology which pervades 
and animates the compositions of their genius is 
destined to celebrate the glory of the daemons. Even 
the common language of Greece and Rome abounded 
with familiar but impious expressions, which the im- 
prudent Christian might too carelessly utter, or too 
patiently hear.^o 

The dangerous temptations which on every side 
lurked in ambush to surprise the unguarded believer 
assailed him with redoubled violence on the days of 
solemn festivals. So artfully were they framed and 
disposed throughout the year that superstitution always 
wore the appearance of pleasure, and often of virtue, ^^ 

90 If a Pagan friend (on the occasion perhaps of sneezing) used 
the familiar expression of "Jupiter bless you," the Christian 
was obliged to protest against the divinity of Jupiter. 

21 Consult the most laboured work of Ovid, his imperfect 
Fasti. He finished no more than the first six months of the 
year. The compilation of Macrobius is called the Saturnalia, 
but it is only a small part of the first book that bears any rela- 
tion to the title. 


Some of the most sacred festivals in the Roman ritual 
were destined to salute the new calends of January 
with vows of public and private felicity, to indulge the 
pious remembrance of the dead and living, to ascertain 
the inviolable bounds of property, to hail, on the 
return of spring, the genial powers of fecundity, to 
perpetuate the two memorable aeras of Rome, the 
foundation of the city and that of the republic, and to 
restore, during the humane license of the Saturnalia, 
the primitive equality of mankind. Some idea may be 
conceived of the abhorrence of the Christians for such 
impious ceremonies, by the scrupulous delicacy which 
they displayed on a much less alarming occasion. On 
days of general festivity, it was the custom of the 
ancients to adorn their doors with lamps and with 
branches of laurel, and to crown their heads with a 
garland of flowers. Tliis innocent and elegant practice 
might, perhaps, have been tolerated as a mere civil 
institution. But it most unluckily happened that the 
doors were under the protection of the household gods, 
that the laurel was sacred to the lover of Daphne, and 
that garlands of flowers, though frequently worn as 
a symbol either of joy or mourning, had been dedi- 
cated in their first origin to the service of superstition. 
The trembling Christians, who were persuaded in this 
instance to comply with the fashion of their country 
and the commands of the magistrate, laboured under 
the most gloomy apprehensions, from the reproaches 
of their own conscience, the censures of the church, 
and the denunciations of divine vengeance. ^^ 

Such was the anxious diligence which was required 
to guard the chastity of the gospel from the infectious 
breath of idolatry. The superstitious observances of 

22 TertuUian has composed a defence, or rather panegyric, of 
the rash action of a Christian soldier who, by throwing away 
his crown of laurel, had exposed himself and his brethren to 
the most imminent danger. By the mention of the emperors 
(Severus and Caracalla) it is evident, notwithstanding the wishes 
of M. de Tillemont, that TertuUian composed his treatise De 
Coroni long before he was engaged in the errors of the 


public or private rites were carelessly practised^, from 
education and habit^ by the followers of the established 
religion. But^ as often as they occurred, they afforded 
the Christians an opportunity of declaring and con- 
firming their zealous opposition. By these frequent 
protestations, tlieir attachment to the faith was con- 
tinually fortified, and, in proportion to the increase of 
zeal, they combated with the more ardour and success 
in the holy war which they had undertaken against 
the empire of the daemons. 

II. The writings of Cicero ^ represent, in the most 
lively colours, the ignorance, the errors, and the un- 
certainty of the ancient philosophers, with regard to 
the immortality of the soul. When they are desirous 
of arming their disciples against the fear of death, 
they inculcate, as an obvious though melancholy posi- 
tion, that the fatal stroke of our dissolution releases 
us from the calamities of life, and that those can no 
longer suffer who no longer exist. Yet there were a 
few sages of Greece and Rome who had conceived a 
more exalted, and, in some respects, a juster idea of 
human nature ; though it must be confessed that, in 
the sublime inquiry, their reason had been often guided 
by their imagination, and that their imagination had 
been prompted by their vanity. When they viewed 
with complacency the extent of their own mental 
powers, when they exercised the various faculties of 
memory, of fancy, and of judgment, in the most pro- 
found speculations, or the most important labours, and 
when they reflected on the desire of fame, which trans- 
ported them into future ages far beyond the bounds 
of death and of the grave ; they were unwilling to 
confound themselves with the beasts of the field, or 
to suppose that a being, for whose dignity they enter- 
tained the most sincere admiration, could be limited 

23 In particular, the first book of the Tusculan Questions, and 
the treatise De Senectute, and the Somnium Scipionis contain, 
in the most beautiful language, everything that Grecian philo- 
sophy, or Roman good sense, could possibly suggest on this 
dark but important object. 


to a spot of earth and to a few years of duration. 
With this favourable prepossession, they summoned 
to their aid the science, or rather the language, of 
Metaphysics. They soon discovered that, as none of 
the properties of matter will apply to the operations 
of the mind, the human soul must consequently be 
a substance distinct from the body, pure, simple, and 
spiritual, incapable of dissolution, and susceptible of 
a much higher degree of virtue and happiness after 
the release from its corporeal prison. From these 
spacious and noble principles, the philosophers who 
trod in the footsteps of Plato deduced a very unjusti- 
fiable conclusion, since they asserted, not only the 
future immortality, but the past eternity of the human 
soul, which they were too apt to consider as a portion 
of the infinite and self-existing spirit which pervades 
and sustains the universe. 2* A doctrine thus removed 
beyond the senses and the experience of mankind 
might serve to amuse the leisure of a philosophic 
mind ; or, in the silence of solitude, it might some- 
times impart a ray of comfort to desponding virtue ; 
but the faint impression which had been received in 
the schools was soon obliterated by the commerce and 
business of active life. We are sufficiently acquainted 
with the eminent persons who flourished in the age 
of Cicero, and of the first Caesars, with their actions, 
their characters, and their motives, to be assured that 
their conduct in this life was never regulated by any 
serious conviction of the rewards or punishments of a 
future state. At the bar and in the senate of Rome 
the ablest orators were not apprehensive of giving 
offence to their hearers by exposing that doctrine as 
an idle and extravagant opinion, which was rejected 
with contempt by every man of a liberal education and 

Since, therefore, the most sublime efforts of philo- 
sophy can extend no farther than feebly to point out 

24 The pre-existence of human souls, so far at least as that 
doctrine is compatible with religion, was adopted by many of 
the Greek and Latin fathers. 


the desire, the hope, or at most the probability, of a 
future state, there is nothing-, except a divine revela- 
tion, that can ascertain the existence, and describe the 
condition, of the invisible country which is destined to 
receive the souls of men after their separation from 
the body. But we may perceive several defects in- 
herent to the popular religions of Greece and Rome, 
which rendered them very unequal to so arduous a 
task. 1. The general system of their mythology was 
unsupported by any solid proofs ; and the wisest among 
the Pagans had already disclaimed its usurped authority. 
2. The description of the infernal regions had been 
abandoned to the fancy of painters and of poets, who 
peopled them with so many phantoms and monsters, 
who dispensed their rewards and punishments with so 
little equity, that a solemn truth, the most congenial 
to the human heart, was oppressed and disgraced by 
the absurd mixture of the wildest fictions.^° 3. The 
doctrine of a future state was scarcely considered 
among the devout pohiiheists of Greece and Rome as 
a fundamental article of faith. The providence of the 
gods, as it related to public communities rather than 
to private individuals, was principally displayed on 
the visible theatre of the present world. The petitions 
which were offered on the altars of Jupiter or Apollo 
expressed the anxiety of their worshippers for temporal 
happiness, and their ignorance or indifference con- 
cerning a future life. The important truth of the 
immortality of the soul was inculcated with more 
diligence as well as success in India, in Assyria, in 
Egypt, and in Gaul ; and, since we cannot attribute 
such a difference to the superior knowledge of the 
barbarians, we must ascribe it to the influence of an 
established priesthood, which employed the motives of 
virtue as the instrument of ambition. 

25 The xith book of the Odyssey gives a very dreary and 
incoherent account of the infernal shades. Pindar and Virgil 
have embellished the picture ; but even those poets, though 
more correct than their great model, are guilty of very strange 


We might naturally expect that a principle, so 
essential to religion, would have been revealed in the 
clearest terms to the chosen people of Palestine, and 
that it might safely have been intrusted to the heredi- 
tary priesthood of Aaron. It is incumbent on us to 
adore the mysterious dispensations of Provideuce,^^ 
when we discover that the doctrine of the immortality 
of the soul is omitted in the law of Moses ; it is darkly 
insinuated by the prophets, and during the long period 
which elapsed between the Egyptian and the Babylonian 
servitudes, the hopes as well as fears of the Jews appear 
to have been confined within the narrow compass of 
the present life. After Cyrus had permitted the exiled 
nation to return into the promised land, and after Ezra 
had restored the ancient records of their religion, two 
celebrated sects, the Sadducees and the Pharisees, 
insensibly arose at Jerusalem.^*" The former, selected 
from the more opulent and distinguished ranks of 
society, were strictly attached to the literal sense of the 
Mosaic law, and they piously rejected the immortality 
of the soul, as an opinion that received no countenance 
from the Divine book, which they revered as the only 
rule of their faith. To the authority of scripture the 
Pharisees added that of tradition, and they accepted, 
under the name of traditions, several speculative tenets 
from the philosophy or religion of the eastern nations. 
The doctrines of fate or predestination, of angels and 
spirits, and of a future state of rewards and punish- 
ments, were in the number of these new articles of 
belief ; and, as the Pharisees, by the austerity of their 
manners, had drawn into their party the body of the 
Jewish people, the immortality of the soul became the 

26 The right reverend author of the Divine Legation of Moses 
assigns a very curious reason for the omission, and most in- 
geniously retorts it on the unbelievers. 

27 Joseph. Antiquitat. 1. xiii. c. lo. De Bell. Jud. ii. 8. 
According to the most natural interpretation of his words, the 
Sadducees admitted only the Pentateuch ; but it has pleased 
some modern critics to add the prophets to their creed, and to 
suppose that they contented themselves with rejecting the tradi- 
tions of the Pharisees. 


prevailing sentiment of the synagogue, under the reign 
of the Asmonaean princes and pontiffs. The temper of 
the Jews was incapable of contenting itself with such 
a cold and languid assent as might satisfy the mind of 
a Polytheist ; and^ as soon as they admitted the idea 
of a future state, they embraced it with the zeal which 
has always formed the characteristic of the nation. 
Their zeal, however, added nothing to its evidence, or 
even probability : and it was still necessary that the 
doctrine of life and immortality, which had been 
dictated by nature, approved by reason, and received 
by superstition, should obtain the sanction of Divine 
truth from the authority and example of Christ. 

MTien the promise of eternal happiness was proposed 
to mankind, on condition of adopting the faith and of 
observing the precepts of the gospel, it is no wonder 
that so advantageous an offer should have been ac- 
cepted by great numbers of every religion, of every 
rank, and of every province in the Roman empire. 
The ancient Christians were animated by a contempt 
for their present existence, and by a just confidence of 
immortality, of which the doubtful and imperfect faith 
of modern ages cannot give us any adequate notion. 
In the primitive church, the influence of truth was 
very powerfully strengthened by an opinion which, 
however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and 
antiquity, has not been found agreeable to experience. 
It was universally believed that the end of the world 
and the kingdom of Heaven were at hand. The near 
approach of this wonderful event had been predicted 
by the apostles ; the tradition of it was preserved by 
their earliest disciples, and those who understood in 
their literal sense the discourses of Christ himself were 
obliged to expect the second and glorious coming of 
the Son of Man in the clouds, before that generation 
was totally extinguished, which had beheld his humble 
condition upon earth, and which might still be witness 
of the calamities of the Jews under Vespasian or 
Hadrian. The revolution of seventeen centuries has 
instructed us not to press too closely the mysterious 


languag'e of prophecy and revelation ; but^ as long as, 
for wise purposes^ this error was permitted to subsist 
in the church, it was productive of the most salutary 
effects on the faith and practice of Christians_, who 
lived in the awful expectation of that moment when 
the globe itself. Sand all the various race of man- 
kind, should tremble at the appearance of their divine 

The ancient and popular doctrine of the Millennium 
was intimately connected with the second coming of 
Christ. As the works of the creation had been finished 
in six days, their duration in their present state, ac- 
cording to a tradition which was attributed to the 
prophet Elijah, was fixed to six thousand years.^ By 
the same analogy it was inferred that this long period 
of labour and contention, which was now almost 
elapsed, ^° would be succeeded by a joyful Sabbath of a 
thousand years ; and that Christ, with the triumphant 
band of the saints and the elect who had escaped 
death, or who had been miraculously revived, would 
reign upon earth till the time appointed for the last 
and general resurrection. So pleasing was this hope 

28 This expectation was countenanced by the twenty-fourth 
chapter of St. Matthew, and by the first epistle of St. Paul to 
the Thessalonians. Erasmus removes the difficulty by the help 
of allegory and metaphor ; and the learned Grotius ventures to 
insinuate that, for wise purposes, the pious deception was per- 
mitted to take place. 

2» This tradition may be traced as high as the author of the 
Epistle of Barnabas, who wrote in the first century, and who 
seems to have been half a Jew. 

80 The primitive church of Antioch computed almost 6ooo 
years from the creation of the world to the birth of Christ, 
Africanus, Lactantius, and the Greek church, have reduced that 
number to 5500, and Eusebius has contented himself with 5200 
years. These calculations were formed on the Septuagint, 
which was universally received during the first six centuries. 
The authority of the Vulgate and of the Hebrew text has 
determined the moderns, Protestants as well as Catholics, to 
prefer a period of about 4000 years ; though, in the study of 
profane antiquity, they often find themselves straitened by those 
narrow limits. 


to the mind of believers that the New Jerusalem, the 
seat of this blissful king-dom, was quickly adorned with 
all the gayest colours of the imagination. A felicity 
consisting only of pure and spiritual pleasure would 
have appeared too refined for its inhabitants, who were 
still supposed to possess their human nature and 
senses. A garden of Eden, with the amusements of 
the pastoral life, was no longer suited to the advanced 
state of society which prevailed under the Roman 
empire. A city was therefore erected of gold and 
precious stones, and a supernatural plenty of corn 
and wine was bestowed on the adjacent territority ; 
in the free enjoyment of whose spontaneous produc- 
tions the happy and benevolent people was never to be 
restrained by any jealous laws of exclusive property.^^ 
The assurance of such a Millennium was carefully in- 
culcated by a succession of fathers from Justin Martyr 
and Irenaeus, who conversed with the immediate dis- 
ciples of the apostles, down to Lactantius, who was 
preceptor to the son of Constantine.^^ Though it 
might not be universally received, it appears to have 
been the reigning sentiment of the orthodox believers ; 
and it seems so well adapted to the desires and appre- 
hensions of mankind that it must have contributed, in 
a very considerable degree, to the progress of the 
Christian faith. But, when the edifice of the church 
was almost completed, the temporary support was laid 
aside. The doctrine of Christ^s reign upon earth was 
at first treated as a profound allegory, was considered 
by degrees as a doubtful and useless opinion, and was 

1 Most of these pictures were borrowed from a misinterpreta- 
tion of Isaiah, Daniel, and the Apocalypse. One of the grossest 
images may be found in Irenseus, the disciple of Papias, who 
had seen the apostle St. John. 

32 The testimony of Justin, of his own faith and that of his 
orthodox brethren, in the doctrine of a Millennium, is delivered 
in the clearest and most solemn manner (Dialog, cum. Try- 
phonte Jud. pp. 177, 178, edit. Benedictin). If in the beginning 
of this important passage there is anything like an inconsistency, 
we may impute it, as we think proper, either to the author or to 
his transcribers. 


at length rejected as the absurd invention of heresy 
and fanaticism. A mysterious prophecy, which still 
forms a part of the sacred canon, but which was 
thought to favour the exploded sentiment, has very 
narrowly escaped the proscription of the church.^ 

Whilst the happiness and glory of a temporal reign 
were promised to the disciples of Christ, the most 
dreadful calamities were denounced against an unbe- 
lieving world. The edification of the new Jerusalem 
"^as to advance by equal steps with the destruction of 
the mystic Babylon ; and, as long as the emperors 
who reigned before Constantine persisted in the pro- 
fession of idolatry, the epithet of Babylon was applied 
to the city and to the empire of Rome. A regular 
series was prepared of all the moral and physical evils 
which can afflict a flourishing nation ; intestine dis- 
cord, and the invasion of the fiercest barbarians from 
the unknown regions of the North ; pestilence and 
famine, comets and eclipses, earthquakes and inunda- 
tions. All these were only so many preparatory and 
alarming signs of the great catastrophe of Rome, when 
the country of the Scipios and Caesars should be con- 
sumed by a flame from Heaven, and the city of the 

33 In the Council of Laodicea (about the year 360) the 
Apocalypse was'tacitly excluded from the sacred canon, by the 
same churches of Asia to which it is addressed ; and we may 
learn from the complaint of Sulpicius Severus that their sentence 
had been ratified by the greater number of Christians of his 
time. From what causes, then, is the Apocalypse at present 
so generally received by the Greek, the Roman, and the Pro- 
testant churches ? The following ones may be assigned, i. The 
Greeks were subdued by the authority of an impostor who, in 
the sixth century, assumed the character of Dionysius the 
Areopagite, 2. A just apprehension, that the grammarians 
might become more important than the theologians, engaged 
the Council of Trent to fix the seal of their infallibility on all 
the books of Scripture, contained in the Latin Vulgate, in the 
number of which the Apocalypse was fortunately included. 
3. The advantage of turning those mysterious prophecies 
against the See of Rome inspired the Protestav.ts with un- 
common veneration for so useful an ally. See the ingenious 
and elegant discourses of the present bishop of Lichfield on 
that unpromising subject. 


seven hills^ with her palaces, her temples, and her 
triumphal arches, should be buried in a vast lake of 
fire and brimstone. It might, however, afford some 
consolation to Roman vanity, that the period of their 
empire would be that of the world itself ; which, as it 
had once perished by the element of water, was destined 
to experience a second and a speedy destruction from 
the element of fire. In the opinion of a general con- 
flagration, the faith of the Christian very happily- 
coincided with the tradition of the East, the philosophy 
of the Stoics, and the analogy of Nature ; and even 
the country which, from religious motives, had been 
chosen for the origin and principal scene of the con- 
flagration, was the best adapted for that purpose by 
natural and physical causes ; by its deep caverns, beds 
of sulphur, and numerous volcanoes, of which those 
of -lEtna, of Vesuvius, and of Lipari, exhibit a very 
imperfect representation. The calmest and most in- 
trepid sceptic could not refuse to acknowledge that the 
destruction of the present system of the world by fire 
was in itself extremely probable. The Christian, who 
founded his belief much less on the fallacious argu- 
ments of reason than on the authority of tradition and 
the interpretation of scripture, expected it with terror 
and confidence, as a certain and approaching event ; 
and, as his mind was perpetually filled with the solemn 
idea, he considered every disaster that happened to the 
empire as an infallible symptom of an expiring world.^"^ 
The condemnation of the wisest and most virtuous 
of the Pagans, on account of their ignorance or dis- 
belief of the divine truth, seems to offend the reason 
and the humanity of the present age.^ But the primi- 

54 On this subject every reader of taste will be entertained 
with the third part of Burnet's Sacred Theory, He blends philo- 
sophy, scripture, and tradition, into one magnificent system ; in 
the description of which he displays a strength of fancy not in- 
ferior to that of Milton himself. 

35 And yet, whatever may be the language of individuals, it 
is still the public doctrine of all the Christian churches ; nor 
can even our ov/n refuse to admit the conclusions which must 
be drawn from the viiith and the xviiith of her Articles. The 


tive church, whose faith was of a much firmer con- 
sistence, delivered over, without hesitation, to eternal 
torture the far greater part of the human species. A 
charitable hope might perhaps be indulged in favour 
of Socrates, or some other sages of antiquity, who had 
consulted the light of reason before that of the gospel 
had arisen. ^^ But it was unanimously affirmed that 
those who, since the birth or the death of Christ, had 
obstinately persisted in the worship of the daemons, 
neither deserved, nor could expect, a pardon from the 
irritated justice of the Deity, These rigid sentiments, 
which had been unknown to the ancient world, appear 
to have infused a spirit of bitterness into a system of 
love and harmony. The ties of blood and fi'iendship 
were frequently torn asunder by the difference of 
religious faith ; and the Christians, who, in this world, 
found themselves oppressed by the power of the Pagans, 
were sometimes seduced by resentment and spiritual 
pride to delight in the prospect of their future triumph. 
''You are fond of spectacles," exclaims the stern Ter- 
tuUian ; " expect the greatest of all spectacles, the last 
and eternal judgment of the universe. How shall I 
admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how exult, when I 
behold so many proud monarchs, and fancied gods, 
groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness ; so many 
magistrates, who persecuted the name of the Lord, 
liquefying in fiercer fires than they ever kindled against 
the Christians ; so many sage philosophers blushing in 
red hot flames, with their deluded scholars ; so many 
celebrated poets trembling before the tribunal, not of 

Jansenists, who have so diligently studied the works of the 
fathers, maintain this sentiment with distinguished zeal ; and 
the learned M. de Tillemont never dismisses a virtuous emperor 
without pronouncing his damnation. Zuinglius is perhaps the 
only leader of a party who has ever adopted the milder senti- 
ment, and he gave no less offence to the Lutherans than to the 

3« Justin and Clemens of Alexandria allow that some of the 
philosophers were instructed by the Logos ; confounding its 
double signification of the human reason and of the Divine 


Minos, but of Christ ; so many tragedians, more tune- 
ful in the expression of their own sufferings ; so many 

dancers !" But the humanity of the reader will 

permit me to draw a veil over the rest of this infernal 
description, which the zealous African pursues in a 
long variety of affected and unfeeling witticisms. 2" 

Doubtless there were many among the primitive 
Christians of a temper more suitable to the meekness 
and charity of their profession. There were many who 
felt a sincere compassion for the danger of their friends 
and countrymen, and who exerted the most benevolent 
zeal to save them from the impending destruction. 
The careless Polytheist, assailed by new and unex- 
pected terrors, against which neither his priests nor 
his philosophers could afford him any certain protec- 
tion, was very frequently terrified and subdued by the 
menace of eternal tortures. His fears might assist the 
progress of his faith and reason ; and, if he could once 
persuade himself to suspect that the Christian religion 
might possibly be true, it became an easy task to con- 
vince him that it was the safest and most prudent 
party that he could possibly embrace. 

HI. The supernatural gifts, which even in this life 
were ascribed to the Christians above the rest of man- 
kind, must have conduced to their own comfort, and 
very frequently to the conviction of infidels. Besides 
the occasional prodigies, which might sometimes be 
effected by the immediate interposition of the Deity 
when he suspended the laws of Nature for the service 
of religion, the Christian church, from the time of the 
apostles and their first disciples,^^ has claimed an un- 

37 Tertullian, De Spectaculis, c. 30. In order to ascertain 
the degree of authority which the zealous African had acquired, 
it may be sufficient to allege the testimony of Cyprian, the 
doctor and guide of all the western churches. As often as he 
applied himself to his daily study of the writings of Tertullian, 
he was accustomed to say, " Da mihi magistrum ; Give me my 

28 Notwithstanding the evasions of Dr. Middleton, it is im- 
possible to overlook the clear traces of visions and inspiration, 
which may be found in the apostolic fathers. 


interrupted succession of miraculous powers, the gift 
of tongues, of vision and of prophecy, the power of 
expelling daemons, of healing the sick, and of raising 
the dead. The knowledge of foreign languages was 
frequently communicated to the contemporaries of 
Irenaeus, though Irenaeus himself was left to struggle 
with the difficulties of a barbarous dialect whilst he 
preached the gospel to the natives of Gaul. The 
divine inspiration, whether it was conveyed in the 
form of a waking or of a sleeping vision, is described 
as a favour very liberally bestowed on all ranks of 
the faithful, on women as on elders, on boys as well 
as upon bishops. \Vhen their devout minds were 
sufficiently prepared by a course of prayer, of fasting, 
and of vigils, to receive the extraordinary impulse, 
they were transported out of their senses, and delivered 
in extasy what was inspired, being mere organs of the 
Holy Spirit, just as a pipe or flute is of him who blows 
into it. We may add that the design of these visions 
was, for the most part, either to disclose the future 
history, or to guide the present administration, of the 
church. The expulsion of the daemons from the 
bodies of those unhappy persons whom they had been 
permitted to torment was considered as a signal, 
though ordinary, triumph of religion, and is re- 
peatedly alleged by the ancient apologists as the most 
convincing evidence of the truth of Christianity. The 
awful ceremony was usually performed in a public 
manner, and in the presence of a great number of 
spectators ; the patient was relieved by the power or 
skill of the exorcist, and the vanquished daemon was 
heard to confess that he was one of the fabled gods of 
antiquity, who had impiously usurped the adoration of 
mankind. But the miraculous cure of diseases, of the 
most inveterate or even praeternatural kind, can no 
longer occasion any surprise, when we recollect that 
in the days of Irenaeus, about the end of the second 
century, the resurrection of the dead was very far 
from being esteemed an uncommon event ; that the 
miracle was frequently performed on necessary occa- 


sioDSj by great fasting and the joint supplication of 
the church of the place, and that the persons thus re- 
stored to their prayers had lived afterwards among 
them many years. At such a period^ when faith could 
boast of so many wonderful victories over deaths it 
seems difficult to account for the scepticism of those 
philosophers who still rejected and derided the doctrine 
of the resurrection. A noble Grecian had rested on 
this important ground the whole controversy^ and 
promised Theophilus^, bishop of Antioch, that_, if he 
could be gratified with the sight of a single person 
who had been actually raised from the dead, he would 
immediately embrace the Christian religion. It is 
somewhat remarkable that the prelate of the first 
eastern church, however anxious for the conversion 
of his friend_, thought proper to decline this fair and 
reasonable challenge. 

The miracles of the primitive church, after obtaining 
the sanction of ages, have been lately attacked in a 
very free and ingenious inquiry ; ^ which, though it 
has met with the most favourable reception from the 
Public, appears to have excited a general scandal 
among the divines of our own as well as of the other 
Protestant churches of Europe.*^ Our different senti- 
ments on this subject will be much less influenced by 
any particular arguments than by our habits of study 
and reflection ; and, above all, by the degree of the 
evidence which we have accustomed ourselves to re- 
quire for the proof of a miraculous event. The duty 
of an historian does not call upon him to interpose his 
private judgment in this nice and important contro- 
versy ; but he ought not to dissemble the difficulty of 
adopting such a theory as may reconcile the interest 
of religion with that of reason, of making a proper 

33 Dr. Middleton sent out his Introduction in the year 1747, 
published his Free Inquiry in 1749, and before his death, which 
happened in 1750, he had prepared a vindication of it against 
his numerous adversaries. 

•^ The university of Oxford conferred degrees on his oppo- 
nents. From the indignation of Mosheim (p. 221), we may 
discover the sentiments of Lutheran divines. 



application of that theory, and of defining with pre- 
cision the limits of that happy period, exempt from 
error and from deceit, to which we might be disposed 
to extend the gift of supernatural powers. From the 
first of the fathers to the last of the popes, a succession 
of bishops, of saints, of martyrs, and of miracles is 
continued without interruption, and the progress of 
superstition was so gradual and almost imperceptible 
that we know not in what particular link we should 
break the chain of tradition. Every age bears testi- 
mony to the wonderful events by which it was distin- 
guished, and its testimony appears no less weighty and 
respectable than that of the preceding generation, till 
we are insensibly led on to accuse our own incoosis- 
tency_, if in the eighth or in the twelfth century we 
deny to the venerable Bede, or to the holy Bernard, 
the same degree of confidence which, in the second 
century, we had so liberally granted to Justin or to 
Irenseus.'*^ If the truth of any of those miracles is 
appreciated by their apparent use and propriety, every 
age had unbelievers to convince, heretics to confute, 
and idolatrous nations to convert ; and sufficient 
motives might always be produced to justify the inter- 
position of Heaven. And yet, since every friend to 
revelation is persuaded of the reality, and every reason- 
able man is convinced of the cessation, of miraculous 
powers, it is evident that there must have been some 
period in which they were either suddenly or gradually 
withdrawn from the Christian church. Whatever aera 
is chosen for that purpose, the death of the apostles, 
the conversion of the Roman empire, or the extinction 
of the Arian heresy,^ the insensibility of the Christians 

^ It may seem somewhat remarkable that Bernard of Clair- 
vaux, who records so many miracles of his friend St. Malachi, 
never takes any notice of his own, which, in their turn, how- 
ever, are carefully related by his companions and disciples. In 
the long series of ecclesiastical history, does there exist a single 
instance of a saint asserting that he himself possessed the gift 
of miracles ? 

43 The conversion of Constantine is the asra which is most 
usually fixed by Protestants, The more rational divines are 


who lived at that time will equally afford a just matter 
of surprise. They still supported their pretensions 
after they had lost their power. Credulity performed 
the office of faith ; fanaticism was permitted to assume 
the language of inspiration, and the elfects of accident 
or contrivance were ascribed to supernatural causes. 
The recent experience of genuine miracles should have 
instructed the Christian world in the ways of Provi- 
dence, and habituated their eye (if we may use a very 
inadequate expression) to the style of the divine artist. 
Should the most skilful painter of modern Italy pre- 
sume to decorate his feeble imitations with the name 
of Raphael or of Correggio, the insolent fraud would 
be soon discovered and indignantly rejected. 

Whatever opinion may be entertained of the miracles 
of the primitive church since the time of the apostles, 
this unresisting softness of temper, so conspicuous 
among the believers of the second and third centuries, 
proved of some accidental benefit to the cause of truth 
and religion. In modern times, a latent, and even 
involuntary, scepticism adheres to the most pious dis- 
positions. Their admission of supernatural truths is 
much less an active consent than a cold and passive 
acquiescence. Accustomed long since to observe and 
to respect the invariable order of Naturp, our reason, 
or at least our imagination, is not sufficiently prepared 
to sustain the visible action of the Deity. But, in the 
first ages of Christianity, the situation of mankind was 
extremely different. The most curious, or the most 
credulous, among the Pagans were often persuaded to 
enter into a society which asserted an actual claim of 
miraculous powers. The primitive Christians per- 
petually trod on mystic ground, and their minds were 
exercised by the habits of believing the most extra- 
ordinary events. They felt, or they fancied, that on 
©very side they were incessantly assaulted by daemons, 
comforted by visions, instructed by prophecy, and 
surprisingly delivered from danger, sickness, and from 

unwilling to admit the miracles of the fourth, whilst the more 
credulous are unwilling to reject those of the fifth century. 


death itself, by the supplications of the church. The 
real or imaginary prodigies, of which they so frequently 
conceived themselves to be the objects, the instruments, 
or the spectators, very happily disposed them to adopt, 
with the same ease, but with far greater justice, the 
authentic wonders of the evangelic history ; and thus 
miracles that exceeded not the measure of their own 
experience inspired them with the most lively assurance 
of mysteries which were acknowledged to surpass the 
limits of their understanding. It is this deep impres- 
sion of supernatural truths which has been so much 
celebrated under the name of faith ; a state of mind 
described as the surest pledge of the divine favour and 
of future felicity, and recommended as the first or 
perhaps the only merit of a Christian. According to 
the more rigid doctors, the moral virtues, which may 
be equally practised by infidels, are destitute of any 
value or efficacy in the work of our justification. 

IV. But the primitive Christian demonstrated his 
faith by his virtues ; and it was very justly supposed 
that the divine persuasion, which enlightened or sub- 
dued the understanding, must, at the same time, purify 
the heart, and direct the actions, of the believer. The 
first apologists of Christianity who justify the innocence 
of their brethren, and the writers of a later period who 
celebrate the sanctity of their ancestors, display, in 
the most lively colours, the reformation of manners 
which was introduced into the world by the preaching 
of the gospel^ As it is my intention to remark only 
such human causes as were permitted to second the 
influence of revelation, I shall slightly mention two 
motives which might naturally render the lives of the 
primitive Christians much purer and more austere than 
those of their Pagan contemporaries, or their degene- 
rate successors ; repentance for their past sins, and tlie 
laudable desire of supporting the reputation of the 
society in which they were engaged. 

It is a very ancient reproach, suggested by the ignor- 
ance or the malice of infidelity, that the Christians 
allured into their party the most atrocious criminals,. 


wlio, as soon as they were touched by a sense of re- 
morse, were easily persuaded to wash away, in the 
water of baptism, the guilt of their past conduct, for 
which the temples of the gods refused to grant them 
any expiation. But this reproach, when it is cleared 
from misrepresentation, contributes as much to the 
honour as it did to the increase of the church. The 
friends of Christianity may acknowledge without a 
blush that many of the most eminent saints had been 
before their baptism the most abandoned sinners. 
Those persons who in the world had followed, though 
in an imperfect manner, the dictates of benevolence 
and propriety, derived such a calm satisfaction from 
the opinion of their own rectitude, as rendered them 
much less susceptible of the sudden emotions of shame, 
of grief, and of terror, which have given birth to so 
many wonderful conversions. After the example of 
their Divine Master, the missionaries of the gospel 
disdained not the society of men, and especially of 
women, oppressed by the consciousness, and very often 
by the effects, of their vices. As they emerged from 
sin and superstition to the glorious hope of immortality, 
they resolved to devote themselves to a life, not only 
of virtue, but of penitence. The desire of perfection 
became the ruling passion of their soul ; and it is well 
known that, while reason embraces a cold mediocrity, 
our passions hurry us, with rapid violence, over the 
space which lies between the most opposite extremes. 

When the new converts had been enrolled in the 
number of the faithful and were admitted to the sacra- 
ments of the church, they found themselves restrained 
from relapsing into their past disorders by another 
consideration of a less spiritual, but of a very innocent 
and respectable nature. Any particular society that 
has departed from the great body of the nation or the 
religion to which it belonged immediately becomes the 
object of universal as well as invidious observation. 
In proportion to the smallness of its numbers, the 
character of the society may be affected by the virtue 
and vices of the persons who compose it ; and every 


member is engaged to watch with the most vigilant 
attention over his own behaviour and over that of his 
brethren, since, as he must expect to incur a part of 
the common disgrace, he may hope to enjoy a share 
of the common reputation. When the Christians 
of Bithynia were brought before the tribunal of the 
younger Pliny, they assured the proconsul that, far 
from being engaged in any unlawful conspiracy, they 
were bound by a solemn obligation to abstain from the 
commission of those crimes which disturb the private 
or public peace of society, from theft, robbery, 
adultery, perjury, and fraud. Near a century after- 
wards, Tertullian, with an honest pride, could boast 
that very few Christians had suffered by the hand of 
the executioner, except on account of their religion. 
Their serious and sequestered life, averse to the gay 
luxury of the age, insured them to chastity, tem- 
perance, economy, and all the sober and domestic 
virtues. As the greater number were of some trade 
or profession, it was incumbent, on them, by the 
strictest integrity and the fairest dealing, to remove 
the suspicions which the profane are too apt to con- 
ceive against the appearances of sanctity. The con- 
tempt of the world exercised them in the habits of 
humility, meekness, and patience. The more they 
were persecuted, the more closely they adhered to 
each other. Their mutual charity and unsuspecting 
confidence has been remarked by infidels, and was too 
often abused by perfidious friends. ^^ 

It is a very honourable circumstance for the morals 
of the primitive Christians, that even their faults, or 
rather eiTors, were derived from an excess of virtue. The 
bishops and doctors of the church, whose evidence 
attests, and whose authority might influence, the pro- 
fessions, the principles, and even the practice, of their 
contemporaries, had studied the scriptures with less 
skill than devotion, and they often received, in the most 

43 The philosopher Peregrinus (of whose hfe and death Lucian 
has left us so entertaining- an account) imposed, for a long time, 
on the credulous simplicity of the Christians of Asia. 


literal sense, those rigid precepts of Christ and the 
apostles to which the prudence of succeeding com- 
mentators has applied a looser and more figurative 
mode of interpretation. Ambitious to exalt the per- 
fection of the gospel above the wisdom of philosophy, 
the zealous fathers have carried the duties of self- 
mortification, of purity, and of patience, to a height 
which it is scarcely possible to attain, and much less 
to preserve, in our present state of weakness and 
corruption. A doctrine so extraordinary and so sub- 
lime must inevitably command the veneration of the 
people ; but it was ill calculated to obtain the sufi*rage 
of those worldly philosophers who, in the conduct of 
this transitory life, consult only the feelings of nature 
and the interest of society. 

There are two very natural propensities which we 
may distinguish in the most virtuous and liberal 
dispositions, the love of pleasure and the love of action. 
If the former be refined by art and learning, improved 
by the charms of social intercourse, and corrected by 
a just regard to economy, to health, and to reputation, 
it is productive of the greatest part of the happiness 
of private life. The love of action is a principle of a 
much stronger and more doubtful nature. It often 
leads to anger, to ambition, and to revenge'; but, when 
it is guided by the sense of propriety and benevolence, 
it becomes the parent of every virtue ; and, if those 
virtues are accompanied with equal abilities, a family, 
a state, or an empire may be indebted for their sarfety 
and prosperity to the undaunted courage of a single 
man. To the love of pleasure we may therefore ascribe 
most of the agreeable, to the love of action we may 
attribute most of the useful and respectable qualifica- 
tions. The character in which both the one and the 
other should be united and harmonised would seem to 
constitute the most perfect idea of human nature. 
The insensible and inactive disposition, which should 
be supposed alike destitute of both, would be rejected, 
by the common consent of mankind, as utterly incap- 
able of procuring any happiness to the individual, or 


any public benefit to the world. But it was not in 
this world that the primitive Christians were desirous 
of making themselves either agreeable or useful. 
, The acquisition of knowledge^ the exercise of our 
reason or fancy, and the cheerful flow of unguarded 
conversation, may employ the leisure of a liberal mind. 
Such amusements, however, were rejected with abhor- 
rence, or admitted with the utmost caution, by the 
severity of the fathers, who despised all knowledge 
that was not useful to salvation, and who considered 
all levity of discourse as a criminal abuse of the gift 
of speech. In our present state of existence, the body 
is so inseparably connected with the soul that it seems 
to be our interest to taste, with innocence and modera- 
tion, the enjoyments of which that faithful companion 
is susceptible. Very different was the reasoning of 
our devout predecessors ; vainly aspiring to imitate the 
perfection of angels, they disdained, or they affected 
to disdain, every earthly and corporeal delight. Some 
of our senses indeed are necessary for our preservation, 
others for our subsistence, and others again for our 
information, and thus far it was impossible to reject 
the use of them. The first sensation of pleasure was 
marked as the first moment of their abuse. The un- 
feeling candidate for Heaven was instructed, not only 
to resist the grosser allurements of the taste or smell, 
but even to shut his ears against the profane harmony 
of sounds, and to view with indifference the most 
finished productions of human art. Gay apparel, mag- 
nificent houses, and elegant furniture were supposed 
to unite the double guilt of pride and of sensuality : a 
simple and mortified appearance was more suitable to 
the Christian who was certain of his sins and doubtful 
of his salvation. In their censures of luxury, the 
fathers are extremely minute and circumstantial ; and 
among the various articles which excite their pious 
indignation, we may enumerate false hair, garments 
of any colour except white, instruments of music, 
vases of gold or silver, downy pillows (as Jacob reposed 
his head oh a stone), white bread, foreign wines, public 


salutations^ the use of warm baths, and the practice of 
shaving the beard, which, according- to the expression 
of Tertullian, is a lie against our own faces, and an 
impious attempt to improve the works of the Creator. 
When Christianity was introduced among the rich and 
the polite, the observation of these singular laws was 
left, as it would be at present, to the few who were 
ambitious of superior sanctity. But it is always easy, 
as well as agreeable, for the inferior ranks of mankind 
to claim a merit from the contempt of that pomp and 
pleasure, which fortune has placed beyond their reach. 
The virtue of the primitive Christians, like that of the 
first Romans, was very frequently guarded by poverty 
and ignorance. 

The chaste severity of the fathers, in whatever related 
to the commerce of the two sexes, flowed from the same 
principle ; their abhorrence of every enjoyment which 
might gratify the sensual, and degrade the spiritual, 
nature of man. It was their favourite opinion that, if 
Adam had preserved his obedience to the Creator, he 
would have lived for ever in a state of virgin purity, 
and that some harmless mode of vegetation might have 
peopled paradise with a race of innocent and immortal 
beings. The use of marriage was permitted only to 
his fallen posterity, as a necessary expedient to con- 
tinue the human species, and as a restraint, however 
imperfect, on the natural licentiousness of desire. The 
hesitation of the orthodox casuists on this interesting 
subject betrays the perplexity of men, unwilling to 
approve an institution which they were compelled to 
tolerate.*^ The enumeration of the very whimsical 
laws, which they most circumstantially imposed on the 
marriage-bed, would force a smile from the young, 
and a blush from the fair. It was their unanimous 
sentiment that a first marriage was adequate to all the 
purposes of nature and of society. The sensual connec- 
tion was refined into a resemblance of the mystic union 
of Christ with his church, and was pronounced to be 

^ Some of the Gnostic heretics were more consistent ; they 
rejected the use of marriage. 

VOL. II. B 2 


indissoluble either by divorce or by death. The prac- 
tice of second nuptials was branded with the name of 
a legal adultery ; and the persons who were guilty of 
so scandalous an offence against Christian purity were 
soon excluded from the honours, and even from the 
alms, of the church. Since desire was imputed as a 
crime, and marriage was tolerated as a defect, it was 
consistent with the same principles to consider a state 
of celibacy as the nearest approach to the divine per- 
fection. It was with the utmost difficulty that ancient 
Rome could support the institution of six vestals ; ^ 
but the primitive church was filled with a great number 
of persons of either sex who had devoted themselves to 
the profession of perpetual chastity. A few of these, 
among whom we may reckon the learned Origen, 
judged it the most prudent to disarm the tempter.*^ 
Some were insensible and some were invincible against 
the assaults of the flesh. Disdaining an ignominious 
flight, the virgins of the warm climate of Africa en- 
countered the enemy in the closest engagement ; they 
permitted priests and deacons to share their bed, and 
gloried amidst the flames in their unsullied purity. 
But insulted Nature sometimes vindicated her rights, 
and this new species of martyrdom served only to in- 
troduce a new scandal into the church. *'^ Among the 
Christian ascetics, however (a name which they soon 
acquired from their painful exercise), many, as they 
were less presumptuous, were probably more success- 
ful. The loss of sensual pleasure was supplied and 

^ Notwithstanding the honours and rewards which were be- 
stowed on those virgins, it was difficult to procure a sufficient 
number ; nor could the dread of the most horrible death always 
restrain their incontinence. 

•*6 Before the fame of Origen had excited envy and persecu- 
tion, this extraordinary action was rather admired than censured. 
As it was his general practice to allegorise scripture, it seems 
unfortunate that, in this instance only, he should have adopted 
the literal sense. 

47 Something like this rash attempt was long afterwards im- 
puted to the founder of the order of Fonlevrauli. Bayle has 
amused himself and his readers on that very delicate subject. 


compensated by spiritual pride. Even the multitude 
of Pagans were inclined to estimate the merit of the 
sacrifice by its apparent difficulty ; and it was in the 
praise of these chaste spouses of Christ that the fathers 
have poured forth the troubled stream of their elo- 
quence. Such are the early traces of monastic prin- 
ciples and institutions which^ in a subsequent age, 
have counterbalanced all the temporal advantages of 

The Christians were not less averse to the business 
than to the pleasures of this world. The defence of 
our persons and property they knew not how to recon- 
cile with the patient doctrine which enjoined an un- 
limited forgiveness of past injuries and commanded 
them to invite the repetition of fresh insults. Their 
simplicity was offended by the use of oaths, by the 
pomp of magistracy, and by the active contention of 
public life, nor could their humane ignorance be con- 
vinced that it was lawful on any occasion to shed the 
blood of our fellow-creatures, either by the sword of 
justice or by that of war ; even though their criminal 
or hostile attempts should threaten the peace and 
safety of the whole community.*^ It was acknowledged 
that, under a less perfect law, the powers of the Jewish 
constitution had been exercised, with the approbation 
of Heaven, by inspired prophets and by anointed kings. 
The Christians felt and confessed that such institutions 
might be necessary for the present system of the world, 
and they cheerfully submitted to the authority of their 
Pagan governors. But, while they inculcated the 
maxims of passive obedience, they refused to take 
any active part in the civil administration or the 
military defence of the empire. Some indulgence 
might perhaps be allowed to those persons who, before 

^ The Ascetics (as early as the second century) made a public 
profession of mortifying their bodies, and of abstaining from the 
use of flesh and wine. 

49 The same patient principles have been revived since the 
Reformation by the Socinians, the modern Anabaptists, and 
the Quakers. ^ 


their conversion^ were already engag-ed in such violent 
and sanguinary occupations ; but it was impossible 
that the Christians_, without renouncing a more sacred 
duty, could assume the character of soldiers, of magi- 
strates, or of princes. ^*^ This indolent, or even 
criminal, disregard to the public welfare exposed them 
to the contempt and reproaches of the Pagans, who 
very frequently asked. What must be the fate of the 
empire, attacked on every side by the barbarians, if ail 
mankind should adopt the pusillanimous sentiments of 
the new sect?^^ To this insulting question the Chris- 
tian apologists returned obscure and ambiguous answers,, 
as they were unwilling to reveal the secret cause of 
their security ; the expectation that, before the con- 
version of mankind was accomplished, war, govern- 
ment, the Roman empire and the world itself would 
be no more. It may be observed that, in this in- 
stance likewise, the situation of the first Christians 
coincided very happily with their religious scruples, 
and that their aversion to an active life contri- 
buted rather to excuse them from the service, than 
to exclude them from the honours, of the state and 

V. But the human character, however it may be 
exalted or depressed by a temporary enthusiasm, will 
return, by degrees, to its proper and natural level, 
and will resume those passions that seem the most 
adapted to its present condition. The primitive 
Christians were dead to the business and pleasures of 
the world ; but their love of action, which could never 
be entirely extinguished, soon revived, and found a 
new occupation in the government of the church. A 
separate society, which attacked the established re- 

50 Tertullian (De Corona Militis, c. ii) suggests to them the 
expedient of deserting; a counsel which, if it had been gene- 
rally known, was not very proper to conciliate the favour of the 
emperors tov/ards the Christian sect. 

51 As well as we can judge from the mutilated representation 
of Origen (1. viii. p. 423), his adversary, Celsus, had urged bis 
objection with great force and candour. 


iigion of the empire, was obliged to adopt some form 
of internal policy, and to appoint a sufficient number 
of ministers, intrusted not only with the spiritual 
functions, but even with the temporal direction, of the 
Christian commonwealth. The safety of that society, 
its honour, its aggrandisement, were productive, even 
in the most pious minds, of a spirit of patriotism, such 
as the first of the Romans had felt for the republic, 
and sometimes, of a similar indifference in the use of 
whatever means might probably conduce to so desir- 
able an end. The ambition of raising themselves or 
their friends to the honours and offices of the church 
was disguised by the laudable intention of devoting to 
the public benefit the power and consideration which, 
for that purpose only, it became their duty to solicit. 
In the exercise of their functions, they were frequently 
called upon to detect the errors of heresy, or the arts 
of faction, to oppose the designs of perfidious brethren, 
to stigmatise their characters with deserved infamy, 
and to expel them from the bosom of a society whose 
peace and happiness they had attempted to disturb. 
The ecclesiastical governors of the Christians were 
taught to unite the wisdom of the serpent with the 
innocence of the dove ; but, as the former was re- 
fined, so the latter was insensibly corrupted, by the 
habits of government. In the church as well as in 
the world the persons who were placed in any public 
station rendered themselves considerable by their 
eloquence and firmness, by their knowledge of man- 
kind, and by their dexterity in business ; and, while 
they concealed from others, and, perhaps, from them- 
selves, the secret motives of their conduct, they too 
frequently relapsed into all the turbulent passions of 
active life, which were tinctured with an additional 
degree of bitterness and obstinacy from the infusion of 
spiritual zeal. 

The government of the church has often been the 
subject, as well as the prize, of religious contention. 
The hostile disputants of Rome, of Paris, of Oxford 
and of Geneva have alike struggled to reduce the 


primitive and apostolic modeP^ to the respective 
standards of their own policy. The few who have 
pursued this inquiry with more candour and im- 
partiality are of opinion ^^ that the apostles declined 
the office of legislation, and rather chose to endure 
some partial scandals and divisions than to' exclude 
the Christians of a future age from the liberty of 
varying their forms of ecclesiastical government accor- 
ding to the changes of times and circumstances. The 
scheme of policy which, under their approbation, was 
adopted for the use of the first century may be dis- 
covered from the practice of Jerusalem, of Ephesus, 
or of Corinth. The societies which were instituted in 
the cities of the Roman empire were united only by 
the ties of faith and charity. Independence and 
equality formed the basis of their internal constitution. 
The want of discipline and human learning was sup- 
plied by the occasional assistance of the prophets, who 
were called to that function, without distinction of 
age, of sex, or of natural abilities, and who, as often 
as they felt the divine impulse, poured forth the 
effusions of the spirit on the assembly of the faithful. 
But these extraordinary gifts were frequently abused 
or misapplied by the prophetic teachers. They dis- 
played them at an improper season, presumptuously 
disturbed the service of the assembly, and by their 
pride or mistaken zeal they introduced, particularly 
into the apostolic church of Corinth, a long and 
melancholy train of disorders. As the institution of 
prophets became useless, and even pernicious, their 
powers were withdrawn and their office abolished. 
The public functions of religion were solely intrusted 
to the established ministers of the church, the bishops 
and the presbyters; two appellations which, in their 

52 The aristocratical party in France, as well as in England, 
has strenuously maintained the divine origin of bishops. But 
the Calvinistical presbyters were impatient of a superior ; and 
the Roman Pontiff refused to acknowledge an equal. 

63 In the history of the Christian hierarchy, I have, for the 
most part, followed the learned and candid Mosheim, 


first origin, appear to have distinguished the same office 
and the same order of persons. The name of Presbyter 
was expressive of their age, or rather of their gravityand 
wisdom. The title of Bishop denoted their inspection 
over the faith and manners of the Christians who were 
committed to their pastoral care. In proportion to the 
respective numbers of the faithful, a larger or smaller 
number of these episcopal presbyters guided each in- 
fant congregation with equal authority and with united 

But the most perfect equality of freedom requires 
the directing hand of a superior magistrate ; and the 
order of public deliberations soon introduces the office 
of a president, invested at least with the authority of 
collecting the sentiments, and of executing the resolu- 
tions, of the assembly. A regard for the public tran- 
quillity, which would so frequently have been interrupted 
by annual or by occasional elections, induced the 
primitive Christians to constitute an honourable and 
perpetual magistracy, and to choose one of the wisest 
and most holy amougitheir presb\i;ers to execute, during 
his life, the duties of their ecclesiastical governor. It 
was under these circumstances that the lofty title of 
Bishop began to raise itself above the humble appella- 
tion of presbyter ; and, while the latter remained the 
most natural distinction for the members of every 
Christian senate, the former was appropriated to the 
dignity of its new president. °^ Tlie advantages of this 
episcopal form of government, which appears to have 
been introduced before the end of the iirst century,^ 

54 The ancient state, as it is described by Jerome, of the 
bishop and presbyters of Alexandria receives a remarkable con- 
firmation from the patriarch Eutychius (Annal. torn. i. p. 330, 
Vers. Pocock), whose testimony I know not how to reject, in 
spite of all the objections of the learned Pearson in his Vindiciae 
Ignatianse, part i. c. 11. 

55 See the introduction to the Apocalypse. Bishops, under 
the name of angels, were already instituted in seven cities of 
Asia. And yet the epistle of Clemens (which is probably of as 
ancient a date) does not lead us to discover any traces of 
episcopacy either at Corinth or Rome. 


were so obvious, and so important for the future 
greatness, as well as the present peace, of Christianity, 
that it was adopted without delay by all the societies 
which were already scattered over the empire, had ac- 
quired in a very early period the sanction of antiquity,^^ 
and is still revered by the most powerful churches, 
both of the East and of the West, as a primitive and 
even as a divine establishment. °'^ It is needless to 
observe that the pious and humble presbyters who 
were first dig-nified with the episcopal title could not 
possess, and would probably have rejected, the power 
and pomp which now encircles the tiara of the Roman 
Pontiff, or the mitre of a German prelate. But 
we may define, in a few words, the narrow limits of 
their original jurisdiction, which was chiefly of a 
spiritual, though in some instances of a temporal, 
nature. It consisted in the administration of the 
sacraments and discipline of the church, the super- 
intendency of religious ceremonies, which imperceptibly 
increased in number and variety, the consecration of 
ecclesiastical ministers, to whom the bishop assigned 
their respective functions, the management of the 
public fund, and the determination of all such differ- 
ences as the faithful were unwilling to expose before 
the tribunal of an idolatrous judge. These powers, 
during a short period, were exercised according to 
the advice of the presbyteral college, and with the 
consent and approbation of the assembly of Chris- 
tians. The primitive bishops were considered only 
as the first of their equals, and the honourable 
servants of a free people. Whenever the episcopal 
chair became vacant by death, a new president was 
chosen among the presbyters by the suffrage of the 
whole congregation, every member of which sup- 

^ Nulla Ecclesia sine Episcopo, has been a fact as well as a 
maxim since the time of Tertullian and Irenaeus, 

57 After we have passed the difficulties of the first century, we 
find the episcopal government universally established, till it was 
interrupted by the republican genius of the Swiss and German 


posed himself invested with a sacred aud sacerdotal 

Such was the mild and equal constitution by which 
the Christians were governed more than a hundred 
years after the death of the apostles. Every society 
formed within itself a separate aud independent re- 
public : and, although the most distant of these little 
states maintained a mutual as well as friendly inter- 
course of letters and deputations, the Christian world 
was not yet connected by any supreme authority or 
legislative assembly. As the numbers of the faith- 
ful were gradually multiplied, they discovered the 
advantages that might result from a closer union of 
their interest and designs. Towards the end of the 
second century, the churches of Greece and Asia 
adopted the useful institutions of provincial synods, 
and they may justly be supposed to have borrowed 
the model of a representative council from the cele- 
brated examples of their own country, the Amphictyons, 
the Achaean league, or the assemblies of the Ionian 
cities. It was soon established as a custom and as a 
law that the bishops of the independent churches should 
meet in the capital of the province at the stated periods 
of spring and autumn. Their deliberations were 
assisted by the advice of a few distinguished presbyters, 
and moderated by the presence of a listening multi- 
tude. °* Their decrees, which were styled Canons, 
regulated every important controversy of faith and 
discipline ; and it was natural to believe that a liberal 
effusion of the Holy Spirit would be poured on the 
united assembly of the delegates of the Christian 
people. The institution of synods was so well suited 
to private ambition and to public interest that in 
the space of a few years it was received throughout 
the whole empire. A regular correspondence was 
established between the provincial councils, which 

5* This council was composed of eighty-seven bishops from 
the provinces of Mauritania, Numidia, and Africa ; some 
presbyters and deacons assisted at the assembly ; praesente 
plebis maximi parte. 


mutually communicated and approved their respective 
proceedings ; and the Catholic church soon assumed 
the form, and acquired the stren^h, of a great 
federative republic. 

As the legislative authority of the particular churches 
was insensibly superseded by the use of councils, the 
bishops obtained by their alliance a much larger share 
of executive and arbitrary power ; and, as soon as 
they were connected by a sense of their common 
interest, they were enabled to attack, with united 
vigour, the original rights of their clergy and people. 
The prelates of the third century imperceptibly changed 
the language of exhortation into that of command, 
scattered the seeds of future usurpations, and supplied, 
by scripture allegories and declamatory rhetoric, their 
deficiency of force and of reason. They exalted the 
unity and power of the church, as it was represented 
in the episcopal office, of which every bishop enjoyed 
an equal and undivided portion. Princes and magis- 
trates, it was often repeated, might boast an earthly 
claim to a transitory dominion ; it was the episcopal 
authority alone which was derived from the Deity, and 
extended itself over this and over another world. The 
bishops were the vicegerents of Christ, the successors 
of the apostles, and the mystic substitutes of the high 
priest of the Mosaic law. Their exclusive privilege of 
conferring the sacerdotal character invaded the freedom 
both of clerical and of popular elections ; and if, in the 
administration of the church, they still consulted the 
judgment of the presbyters or the inclination of the 
people, they most carefully inculcated the merit of 
such a voluntary condescension. The bishops acknow- 
ledged the supreme authority which resided in the 
assembly of their brethren ; but, in the government of 
his peculiar diocese, each of them exacted from his 
flock the same implicit obedience as if that favourite 
metaphor had been literally just, and as if the shepherd 
had been of a more exalted nature than that of his 
sheep. This obedience, however, was not imposed 
without some efforts on one side, and some resistance 


on the other. The democratical part of the consti- 
tution was, in many places, very wamily supported by 
the zealous or interested opposition of the inferior 
clergy. But their patriotism received the ignominious 
epithets of faction and schism ; and the episcopal cause 
was indebted for its rapid progress to the labours of 
many active prelates, who, like Cyprian of Carthage, 
could reconcile the arts of the most ambitious states- 
man with the Christian virtues which seem adapted to 
the character of a saint and martyr.^ 

The same causes which at first had destroyed the 
equality of the presbyters introduced among the 
bishops a pre-eminence of rank, and from thence a 
superiority of jurisdiction. As often as in the spring 
and autumn they met in provincial synod, the differ- 
ence of personal merit and reputation was very sensibly 
felt among the members of the assembly, and the 
multitude was governed by the wisdom and eloquence 
of the few. But the order of public proceedings 
required a more regular and less invidious distinction ; 
the office of perpetual presidents in the councils of 
each province was conferred on the bishops of the 
principal city, and these aspiring prelates, who soon 
acquired the lofty titles of Metropolitans and Primates, 
secretly prepared themselves to usurp over their epis- 
copal brethren the same authority which the bishops 
had so lately assumed above the college of presbyters. 
Nor was it long before an emulation of pre-eminence 
and power prevailed among the metropolitans them- 
selves, each of them affecting to display, in the most 
pompous terms, the temporal honours and advantages 
of the city over which he presided ; the numbers and 
opulence of the Christians who were subject to their 
pastoral care ; the saints and martyrs who had arisen 
among them, and the purity with which they preserved 
the tradition of the faith, as it had been transmitted 

59 If Novatus, Felicissimus, &c. , whom the bishop of Carthage 
expelled from his church, and from Africa, were not the most 
detestable monsters of wickedness, the zeal of Cyprian must 
occasionally have prevailed over his veracity. 


throug-h a series of orthodox bishops from the apostle 
or the apostolic disciple, to whom the foundation of 
their church was ascribed. ^'^ From every cause, either 
of a civil or of an ecclesiastical nature, it was easy tG 
foresee that Rome must enjoy the respect, and would 
soon claim the obedience, of the provinces. The 
society of the faithful bore a just proportion of the 
capital of the empire ; and the Roman church was the 
greatest, the most numerous, and, in regard to the 
West, the most ancient of all the Christian establish- 
ments, many of which had received their religion from 
the pious labours of her missionaries. Instead of one 
apostolic founder, the utmost boast of Antioch, of 
Ephesus, or of Corinth, the banks of the Tiber were 
supposed to have been honoured with the preaching 
and martyrdom of the two most eminent among the 
apostles ; ^^ and the bishops of Rome very prudently 
claimed the inheritance of whatsoever prerogatives 
were attributed either to the person or to the office of 
St. Peter. ^2 The bishops of Italy and of the provinces 
were disposed to allow them a primacy of order and 
association (such was their very accurate expression) 
in the Christian aristocracy. But the power of a 
monarch was rejected with abhorrence, and the aspir- 
ing genius of Rome experienced, from the nations of 
Asia and Africa, a more vigorous resistance to her 
spiritual, than she had formerly done to her temporal, 
dominion. The patriotic Cyprian, who ruled with the 

60 TertuUian, in a distinct treatise, has pleaded against the 
heretics the right of prescription, as it was held by the apostolic 

51 The journey of St. Peter to Rome is mentioned by most of 
the ancients, maintained by all the Catholics, allowed by some 
Protestants, but has been vigorously attacked by Spanheim 
(Miscellanea Sacra, iii. 3). According to Father Hardouin, the 
monks of the thirteenth century, who composed the ^Eneid, 
represented St. Peter under the allegorical character of the 
Trojan hero. 

62 It is in French only that the famous allusion to St. Peter's 
name is exact. Tu es Pierre et sur c&iie, pierre. — The same is 
imperfect in Greek, Latin, Italian, &c., and totally unintelligible 
vn our Teutonic languages. 


most absolute sway the church of Carthage and the 
provincial synods, opposed with resolution and success 
the ambition of the Roman pontiff, artfully connected 
his own cause with that of the eastern bishops, and, 
like Hannibal, sought out new allies in the heart of 
Asia. If this Punic war was carried on without any 
eiiusion of blood, it was owing much less to the 
moderation than to the weakness of the contending 
prelates. Invectives and excommunications were their 
only weapons ; and these, during the progress of the 
■whole controversy, they hurled against each other 
with equal fury and devotion. The hard necessity of 
censuring either a pope, or a saint and martyr, dis- 
tresses the modern Catholics, whenever they are 
obliged to relate the particulars of a dispute in which 
the champions of religion indulged such passions as 
seem much more adapted to the senate or to the camp. 
The progress of the ecclesiastical authority gave 
birth to the memorable distinction of the laity and of 
the clergy, which had been imknown to the Greeks 
and Romans. The former of these appellations com- 
prehended the body of the Christian people; the latter, 
according to the signification of the word, was appro- 
priated to the chosen portion that had been set apart 
for the service of religion ; a celebrated order of men 
which has furnished the most important, though not 
always the most edifying, subjects for modern history. 
Their mutual hostilities sometimes disturbed the peace 
of the infant church, but their zeal and activity were 
united in the common cause, and the love of power, 
which (under the most artful disguises) could insinuate 
itself into the breasts of bishops and martyrs, animated 
them to increase the number of their subjects, and to 
enlarge the limits of the Christian empire, lliey were 
destitute of any temporal force, and they were for a 
long time discouraged and oppressed, rather than 
assisted, by the civil magistrate ; but they had ac- 
quired, and they employed within their own society, 
the two most efficacious instruments of government, 
rewards and punishments ; the former derived from 


the pious liberality, the latter from the devout appre- 
hensions, of the faithful. 

I. The community of goods, which had so agreeably 
amused the imagination of Plato,^^ and which sub- 
sisted in some degree among the austere sect of the 
Essenians, was adopted for a short time in the 
primitive church. The fervour of the first proselytes 
prompted them to sell those worldly possessions which 
they despised, to lay the price of them at the feet 
of the apostles, and to content themselves with re- 
ceiving an equal share out of the general distribution. 
The progress of the Christian religion relaxed, and 
gradually abolished, this generous institution, which, 
in hands less pure than those of the apostles, would too 
soon have been corrupted and abused by the returning 
selfishness of human nature ; and the converts who 
embraced the new religion were permitted to retain 
the possession of their patrimony, to receive legacies 
and inheritances, and to increase their separate pro- 
perty by all the lawful means of trade and industry. 
Instead of an absolute sacrifice, a moderate proportion 
was accepted by the ministers of the gospel ; and in 
their weekly or monthly assemblies, every believer, 
according to the exigency of the occasion, and the 
measure of his wealth and piety, presented his 
voluntary offering for the use of the common fund. 
Nothing, however inconsiderable, was refused ; but it 
was diligently inculcated that, in the article of Tythes, 
the Mosaic law was still of divine obligation ; and 
that, since the Jews, under a less perfect discipline, 
had been commanded to pay a tenth part of all that 
they possessed, it would become the disciples of 
Christ to distinguish themselves by a superior degree 
of liberality,^* and to acquire some merit by resigning 

68 The community instituted by Plato is more perfect than 
that which Sir Thomas More had imagined for his Utopia. 
The community of women, and that of temporal goods, may 
be considered as inseparable parts of the same system. 

•4 The Constitutions introduce this divine precept by de- 
claring that priests are as much above kings, as the soul is 


a superfluous treasure, which must so soon be annihi- 
lated with the world itself,^ It is almost unnecessary 
to observe that the revenue of each particular church, 
which was of so uncertain and fluctuating a nature, 
must have varied with the poverty or the opulence of 
the faithful, as they were dispersed in obscure villages, 
or collected in the great cities of the empire. In the 
time of the emperor Decius, it was the opinion of the 
magistrates that the Christians of Rome were possessed 
of very considerable wealth ; that vessels of gold and 
silver were used in their religious worship ; and that 
many among their proselytes had sold their lands and 
houses to increase the public riches of the sect, at the 
expense, indeed, of their unfortunate children, who 
found themselves beggars, because their parents had 
been saints.^ We should listen with distrust to the 
suspicions of strangers and enemies : on this occasion, 
however, they receive a very specious and probable 
colour from the two following circumstances, the only 
ones that have reached our knowledge, which define 
any precise sums, or convey any distinct idea. Almost 
at the same period, the bishop of Carthage, from a 
society less opulent than that of Rome, collected a 
hundred thousand sesterces (above eight hundred and 
fifty pounds sterling), on a sudden call of charity, to 
redeem the brethren of Numidia, who had been carried 
away captives by the barbarians of the desert. About 
an hundi'ed years before the reign of Decius, the 
Roman church had received, in a single donation, the 
sum of two hundred thousand sesterces from a stranger 

above the body. Among the tythable articles, they enumerate 
corn, wine, oil, and wood. 

65 The same opinion which prevailed about the year looo was 
productive of the same effects. Most of the donations express 
their motive, " appropinquante mundi fine." 

6« The subsequent conduct of the deacon Laurence only 
proves how proper a use was made of the wealth of the Roman 
church ; it was undoubtedly very considerable ; but Fra Paolo 
(c. 3) appears to exaggerate when he supposes that the succes- 
sors of Commodus were urged to persecute the Christians by 
their own avarice, or that of their Praetorian praefects. 


of Pontus, who proposed to fix his residence in the 
capital. These oblations, for the most part, were made 
in money ; nor was the society of Christians either 
desirous or capable of acquiring, to any considerable 
degree, the incumbrance of landed property. It had 
been provided by several laws, which were enacted 
with the same design as our statutes of mortmain, that 
no real estates should be given or bequeathed to any 
corporate body, without either a special privilege or a 
particular dispensation from the emperor or from the 
senate ; who were seldom disposed to grant them in 
favour of a sect, at first the object of their contempt, 
and at last of their fears and jealousy. A transaction, 
however, is related under the reign of Alexander 
Severus, which discovers that the restraint was some- 
times eluded or suspended, and that the Christians 
were permitted to claim and to possess lands within the 
limits of Rome itself.®*" The progress of Christianity 
and the civil confusion of the empire contributed to 
relax the severity of the laws ; and, before the close of 
the third century, many considerable estates were 
bestowed on the opulent churches of Rome, Milan, 
Carthage, Antioch, Alexandria, and the other great 
cities of Italy and the provinces. 

The bishop was the natural steward of the church ; 
the public stock was intrusted to his care, without 
account or control ; the presbyters were confined to 
their spiritual functions, and the more dependent order 
of deacons was solely employed in the management and 
distribution of the ecclesiastical revenue. If we may 
give credit to the vehement declamations of Cyprian, 
there were too many among his African brethren who, 
in the execution of their charge, violated every precept, 
not only of evangelic perfection, but even of 
moral virtue. By some of these unfaithful stewards, 
the riches of the church were lavished in sensual 
pleasures, by others they were perverted to the pur- 
poses of private gain, of fraudulent purchases, and of 

^ The ground had been public ; and was now disputed be- 
tween the society of Christians and that of butchers. 


rapacious usury. But, as long as the contributions 
of the Christian people were free and unconstrained, 
the abuse of their conhdence could not be very frequent, 
and the general uses to which their liberality was 
applied reflected honour on the religious society. A 
decent portion was reserved for the maintenance of the 
bishop and his clergy ; a sufficient sum was allotted 
for the expenses of the public worship, of which the 
feasts of love, the agapce, as they were called, constituted 
a very pleasing part. The whole remainder was the 
sacred patrimony of the poor. According to the dis- 
cretion of the bishop, it was distributed to support 
widows and orphans, the lame, the sick, and the aged 
of the community ; to comfort strangers and pilgrims, 
and to alleviate the misfortunes of prisoners and cap- 
tives, more especially when their sufferings had been 
occasioned by their firm attachment to the cause of 
religion. A generous intercourse of charity united 
the most distant provinces, and the smaller congrega- 
tions were cheerfully assisted by the alms of their 
more opulent brethren. Such an institution, which 
paid less regard to the merit than to the distress of 
the object, very materially conduced to the progress 
of Christianity. The Pagans, who were actuated by a 
sense of humanity, while they derided the doctrines, 
acknowledged the benevolence, of the new sect.*^ The 
prospect of immediate relief and of future protection 
allured into its hospitable bosom many of those un- 
happy persons whom the neglect of the world would 
have abandoned to the miseries of want, of sickness, 
and of old age. There is some reason likewise to 
believe that great numbers of infants who, according 
to the inhuman practice of the times, had been exposed 
by their parents were frequently rescued from death, 
baptized, educated, and maintained by the piety of 
the Christians, and at the expense of the public 

63 Julian (Epist. 49) seems mortified that the Christian charity 
maintains not only their own, but likewise the heathen poor. 
^' Such, at least, has been the laudable conduct of more 


II. It is the undoubted right of every society to 
exclude from its communion and benefits such among 
its members as reject or violate those regulations 
which have been established by general consent. In 
the exercise of this power, the censures of the Christian 
church were chiefly directed against scandalous sinners, 
and particularly those who were guilty of murder, of 
fraud, or of incontinence ; against the authors, or the 
followers, of any heretical opinions which had been 
condemned by the judgment of the episcopal order ; 
and against those unhappy persons who, whether from 
choice or from compulsion, had polluted themselves 
after their baptism by any act of idolatrous worship. 
The consequences of excommunication were of a tem- 
poral as well as a spiritual nature. The Christian 
against whom it was pronounced was deprived of any 
part in the oblations of the faithful. The ties both of 
religious and of private friendship were dissolved ; he 
found himself a profane object of abhorrence to the 
persons whom he the most esteemed, or by whom he 
had been the most tenderly beloved ; and, as far as an 
expulsion from a respectable society could imprint on 
his character a mark of disgrace, he was shunned or 
suspected by the generality of mankind. The situation 
of these unfortunate exiles was in itself very painful 
and melancholy ; but, as it usually happens, their appre- 
hensions far exceeded their sufferings. The benefits 
of the Christian communion were those of eternal life, 
nor could they erase from their minds the awful 
opinion, that to those ecclesiastical governors by 
whom they were condemned the Deity had committed 
the keys of Hell and of Paradise. The heretics, in- 
deed, who might be supported by the consciousness 
of their intentions, and by the flattering hope that 
they alone had discovered the true path of salvation, 
endeavoured to regain, in their separate assemblies, 
those comforts, temporal as well as spiritual, which 

modern missionaries, under the same circumstances. Above 
three thousand new-born infants are annually exposed in the 
streets of Pekin. 


they no longer derived from the great society of 

Christians. But almost all those who had reluctantly 
yielded to the power of vice or idolatry were sensible 
of their fallen condition, and anxiously desirous of 
being- restored to the benefits of the Christian com- 

With reg-ard to the treatment of these penitents, 
two opposite opinions, the one of justice, the other of 
mercy, divided the primitive church. The more rigid 
and inflexible casuists refused them for ever, and with- 
out exception, the meanest place in the holy com- 
munity, which they had disffraced or deserted, and, 
leaving them to the remorse of a guilty conscience, 
indulged them only with a faint ray of hope that the 
contrition of their life and death might possibly be 
accepted by the Supreme Being. ^*^ A milder senti- 
ment was embraced, in practice as well as in theory, 
by the purest and most respectable of the Christian 
churches. The gates of reconciliation and of Heaven 
were seldom shut against the returning penitent ; but 
a severe and solemn form of discipline was instituted, 
which, while it served to expiate his crime, might 
powerfully deter the spectators froili the imitation of 
his example. Humbled by a public confession, ema- 
ciated by fasting, and clothed in sackcloth, the penitent 
lay prostrate at the door of the assembly, imploring, 
with tears, the pardon of his offences, and soliciting 
the prayers of the faithful. "^ If the fault was of a very 
heinous nature, whole years of penance were esteemed 
an inadequate satisfaction to the Divine Justice ; and 
it was always by slow and painful gradations that the 
sinner, the heretic, or the apostate was re-admitted 
into the bosom of the church. A sentence of perpetual 
excommunication was, however, reserved for some 
crimes of an extraordinary magnitude, and particularly 

70 The Montanists and the Novatians, who adhered to this 
opinion with the greatest rigour and obstinacy, found themselves 
at last in the number of excommunicated heretics. 

^ The admirers of antiquity regret the loss of this public 


for the inexcusable relapses of those penitents who 
had already experienced and abused the clemency of 
their ecclesiastical superiors. According to the cir- 
cumstances or the number of the guilty, the exercise 
of the Christian discipline was varied by the discretion 
of the bishops. The councils of Ancyra and Illiberis 
were held about the same time^ the one in Galatia, 
the other in Spain ; but their respective canons, which 
are still extant, seem to breathe a very different spirit. 
The Galatian, who after his baptism had repeatedly 
sacrificed to idols^ might obtain his pardon by a penance 
of seven years, and, if he had seduced others to imitate 
his example^ only three years more were added to the 
term of his exile. But the unhappy Spaniard, who 
had committed the same offence, was deprived of the 
hope of reconciliation, even in the article of death ; 
and his idolatry was placed at the head of a list of 
seventeen other crimes, against which a sentence, no 
less terrible, was pronounced. Among these we may 
distinguish the inexpiable guilt of calumniating a 
bishop, a presbyter, or even a deacon.''^ 

The well-tempered mixture of liberality and rigour, 
the judicious dispensation of rewards and punishments, 
according to the maxims of policy as well as justice, 
constituted the human strength of the church. The 
bishops, whose paternal care extended itself to the 
government of both worlds, were sensible of the im- 
portance of these prerogatives, and, covering their 
ambition with the fair pretence of the love of order, 
they were jealous of any rival in the exercise of a 
discipline so necessary to prevent the desertion of 
those troops which had inlisted themselves under the 
banner of the cross, and whose numbers every day 

72 See in Dupin, Bibliotheque Eccldsiastique, torn, ii. pp. 304- 
313, a short but rational exposition of the canons of those 
councils, which were assembled in the first moments of tran- 
quillity after the persecution of Diocletian. This persecution 
had been much less severely felt in Spain than in Galatia ; a 
difference which may, in some measure, account for the con- 
trast of their regulations. 


became more considerable. From the imperious de- 
clamations of Cyprian we should naturally conclude 
that the doctrines of excommunication and penance 
formed the most essential part of religion ; and that it 
was much less dangerous for the disciples of Christ to 
neglect the observance of the moral duties than to 
despise the censures and authority of their bishops. 
Sometimes we might imagine that we were listening 
to the voice of Moses, when he commanded the earth 
to open, and to swallow up, in consuming flames, the 
rebellious race which refused obedience to the priest- 
hood of Aaron ; and we should sometimes suppose 
that we heard a Roman consul asserting the majesty 
of the republic, and declaring his inflexible resolution 
to enforce the rigour of the laws. ''If such irregu- 
larities are su fleered with impunity (it is thus that the 
bishop of Carthage chides the lenity of his colleague), 
if such irregularities are sufl^ered, there is an end of 
Episcopal vigour ; an end of the sublime and divine 
power of governing the church, an end of Christianity 
itself." Cyprian had renounced those temporal 
honours which it is probable he would never have 
obtained; but the acquisition of such absolute command 
over the consciences and understanding of a congre- 
gation, however obscure or despised by the world, is 
more truly grateful to the pride of the human heart 
than the possession of the most despotic power imposed 
by arms and conquest on a reluctant people. 

In the course of this important, though perhaps 
tedious, inquiry, I have attempted to display the 
secondary causes which so eflacaciously assisted the 
truth of the Christian religion. If among these causes 
we have discovered any artificial ornaments, any acci- 
dental circumstances, or any mixture of error and 
passion, it cannot appear surprising that mankind 
should be the most sensibly afi'ected by such motives 
as were suited to their imperfect nature. It was by 
the aid of these causes, exclusive zeal, the immediate 
expectation of another world, the claim of miracles, 
the practice of rigid virtue, and the constitution of the 


primitive church, that Christianity spread itself with 
so much success in the Roman empire. To the first 
of these the Christians were indebted for their in- 
vincible valour, which disdained to capitulate with the 
enemy whom they were resolved to vanquish. The 
three succeeding causes supplied their valour with the 
most formidable arms. The last of these causes united 
their courag-e, directed their arms, and gave their 
efforts that irresistible weight which even a small band 
of well-trained and intrepid volunteers has so often 
possessed over an undisciplined multitude, ignorant of 
the subject, and careless of the event of the war. In 
the various religions of Polytheism, some wandering 
fanatics of Egypt and Syria, who addressed themselves 
to the credulous superstition of the populace, were 
perhaps the only order of priests ^^ that derived their 
whole support and credit from their sacerdotal pro- 
fession, and were very deeply affected by a personal 
concern for the safety or prosperity of their tutelar 
deities. The ministers of Polytheism, both in Rome 
and in the provinces, were, for the most part, men of 
a noble birth, and of an affluent fortune, who received, 
as an honourable distinction, the care of a celebrated 
temple, or of a public sacrifice, exhibited, very fre- 
quently at their own expense, the sacred games,''* and 
with cold indifference performed the ancient rites, 
according to the laws and fashion of their country. 
As they were engaged in the ordinary occupations of 
life, their zeal and devotion were seldom animated by 
a sense of interest, or by the habits of an ecclesiastical 
character. Confined to their respective temples and 
cities, they remained without any connection of dis- 
cipline or government ; and, whilst they acknowledged 

'3 The arts, the manners, and the vices of the priests of the 
Syrian goddess are very humorously described by Apuleius, in 
the eighth book of his Metamorphoses. 

74 The office of Asiarch was of this nature, and it is frequently 
mentioned in Aristides, the Inscriptions, &c. It was annual 
and elective. None but the vainest citizens could desire the 
honour ; none but the most wealthy could support the expense. 


the supreme jurisdiction of the senate, of the college 
of pontiffs, and of the emperor, those civil ma^strates 
contented themselves vvith the easy task of maintaining, 
in peace and dignity, the general worship of mankind. 
We have already seen how various, how loose, and 
how uncertain were the religious sentiments of Poly- 
theists. They were abandoned, almost without control, 
to the natural workings of a superstitious fancy. The 
accidental circumstances of their life and situation 
determined the object, as well as the degree, of their 
devotion ; and, as long as their adoration was succes- 
sively prostituted to a thousand deities, it was scarcely 
possible that their hearts could be susceptible of a 
very sincere or lively passion for any of them. 

When Christianity appeared in the world, even these 
faint and imperfect impressions had lost much of their 
original power. Human reason, which, by its unas- 
sisted strength, is incapable of perceiving the mysteries 
of faith, had already obtained an easy triumph over the 
folly of Paganism ; and, when Tertullian or Lactautius 
employ their labours in exposing its falsehood and 
extravagance, they are obliged to transcribe the elo- 
quence of Cicero or the wit of Lucian. The contagion 
of these sceptical writings had been diffused far beyond 
the number of their readers. The fashion of incredu- 
lity was communicated from the philosopher to the 
man of pleasure or business, from the noble to the 
plebeian, and from the master to the menial slave who 
waited at his table, and who eagerly listened to the 
freedom of his conversation. On public occasions the 
philosophic part of mankind affected to treat with 
respect and decency the religious institutions of their 
country ; but their secret contempt penetrated through 
the thin and awkward disguise ; and even the people, 
when they discovered that their deities were rejected 
and derided by those whose rank or understanding 
they were accustomed to reverence, were filled with 
doubts and apprehensions concerning the truth of 
those doctrines to which they had yielded the most 
implicit belief. The decline of ancient prejudice 


exposed a very numerous portion of human kind to 
the danger of a painful and comfortless situation. A 
state of scepticism and suspense may amuse a few 
inquisitive minds. But the practice of superstition is 
so congenial to the multitude that, if they are forcibly 
awakened, they still regret the loss of their pleasing 
vision. Their love of the marvellous and supernatural, 
their curiosity with regard to future events, and their 
strong propensity to extend their hopes and fears 
beyond the limits of the visible world, were the prin- 
cipal causes which favoured the establishment of 
Polytheism. So urgent on the vulgar is the necessity 
of believing that the fall of any system of mythology 
will most probably be succeeded by the introduction 
of some other mode of superstition. Some deities of 
a more recent and fashionable cast might soon have 
occupied the deserted temples of Jupiter and Apollo, 
if, in the decisive moment, the wisdom of Providence 
had not interposed a genuine revelation, fitted to 
inspire the most rational esteem and conviction, whilst, 
at the same time, it was adorned with all that could 
attract the curiosity, the wonder, and the veneration 
of the people. In their actual disposition, as many 
were almost disengaged from their artificial prejudices, 
but equally susceptible and desirous of a devout attach- 
ment ; an object much less deserving would have been 
sufficient to fill the vacant place in their hearts, and 
to gratify the uncertain eagerness of their passions. 
Those who are inclined to pursue this reflection, instead 
of viewing with astonishment the rapid progress of 
Christianity, will perhaps be surprised that its success 
was not stiil more rapid and still more universal. 

It has been observed, with truth as well as propriety, 
that the conquests of Rome prepared and facilitated 
those of Christianity. In the second chapter of this 
work we have attempted to explain in what manner 
the most civilised provinces of Europe, Asia, and Africa 
were united under the dominion of one sovereign, and 
gradually connected by the most intimate ties of laws, 
of manners, and of language. The Jews of Palestine, 


who had fondly expected a temporal deliverer_, gave 
so cold a reception to tlie miracles of the divine prophet 
that it was found unnecessary to publish^ or at least 
to preserve, any Hebrew gospel."^ The authentic 
histories of the actions of Christ were composed in the 
Greek language, at a considerable distance from Jeru- 
salem, and after the Gentile converts were grown 
extremely numerous J^ As soon as those histories 
were translated into the Latin tongue, they were per- 
fectly intelligible to all the subjects of Rome, excepting 
only to the peasants of Syria and Egypt, for whose 
benefit particular versions were afterwards made. The 
public highways, which had been constructed for the 
use of the legions, opened an easy passage for the 
Christian missionaries from Damascus to Corinth, and 
from Italy to the extremity of Spain or Britain ; nor 
did those spiritual conquerors encounter any of the 
obstacles which usually retard or prevent the intro- 
duction of a foreign religion into a distant country. 
There is the strongest reason to believe that before 
the reigns of Diocletian and Constantine, the faith of 
Christ had been preached in every province, and in 
all the great cities of the empire ; but the foundation 
of the several congregations, the numbers of the faith- 
ful who composed them, and their proportion to the 
unbelieving multitude, are now buried in obscurity, or 
disguised by fiction and declamation. Such imperfect 
circumstances, however, as have reached our knowledge 
concerning the increase of the Christian name in Asia 
and Greece, in Egypt, in Italy, and in the West, we 
shall now proceed to relate, without neglecting the 
real or imaginary acquisitions which lay beyond the 
frontiers of the Roman empire. 

The rich provinces that extend from the Euphrates 

''5 The modern critics are not disposed to believe what the 
fathers almost unanimously assert, that St. Matthew composed 
a Hebrew gospel, of which only the Greek translation is extant. 
It seems, however, dangerous to reject their testimony. 

78 Under the reigns of Nero and Domitian, and in the cities 
of Alexandria, Antioch, Rome, and Ephesus. 



to the Ionian sea were the principal theatre on which 
the apostle of the Gentiles displayed his zeal and piety. 
The seeds of the g'ospel, which he had scattered in a 
fertile soil, were diligently cultivated by his disciples ; 
and it should seem that, during the two first centuries, 
the most considerable body of Christians was contained 
within those limits. Among the societies which were 
instituted in Syria, none were more ancient or more 
illustrious than those of Damascus, of Bercea or Aleppo, 
and of Antioch. The prophetic introduction of the 
Apocalypse has described and immortalised the seven 
churches of Asia: — Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamus, 
Thyatira,'*^ Sardes, Laodicea, and Philadelphia ; and 
their colonies were soon diffused over that populous 
country. In a very early period, the islands of Cyprus 
and Crete, the provinces of Thrace and Macedonia, 
gave a favourable reception to the new religion ; and 
Christian republics were soon founded in the cities of 
Corinth, of Sparta, and of Athens."^ The antiquity of 
the Greek and Asiatic churches allowed a sufficient 
space of time for their increase and multiplication, and 
even the swarms of Gnostics and other heretics serve 
to display the flourishing condition of the orthodox 
church, since the appellation of heretics has always 
been applied to the less numerous party. To these 
domestic testimonies we may add the confession, the 
complaints, and the apprehensions of the Gentiles 
themselves. From the writings of Lucian, a philosopher 
who had studied mankind, and who describes their 
manners in the most lively colours, we may learn that, 
uuder the reign of Commodus, his native country of 
Pontus was filled with Epicureans and Christians."^ 

"^ The Alogians (Epiphanius de Hasres. 51) disputed the 
genuineness of the Apocalypse, because the church of Thyatira 
was not yet founded. Epiphanius, who allows the fact, extri- 
cates himself from the difficulty by ingeniously supposing that 
St. John wrote in the spirit of prophecy. 

78 The epistles of Ignatius and Dionysius (ap. Euseb. iv. 23) 
point out many churches in Asia and Greece. That of Athens 
seems to have been one of the least flourishing. 

7^ Christianity, however, must have been very unequally 


^Vithin fourscore years after the death of Christ,^ the 
humane Pliuy laments the magnitude of the evil which 
he vainly attempted to eradicate. In his very curious 
epistle to the emperor Trajan, he affirms that the 
temples were almost deserted, that the sacred victims 
scarcely found any purchasers, and that the super- 
stition had not only infected the cities, but had even 
spread itself into the villages and the open country of 
Pontus and Bithynia. 

Without descending into a minute scrutiny of the 
expressions, or of the motives of those writers who 
either celebrate or lament the progress of Christianity 
in the East, it may in general be observed that none 
of them have left us any grounds from whence a just 
estimate might be formed of the real numbers of the 
faithful in those provinces. One circumstance, how- 
ever, has been fortunately preserved, which seems to 
cast a more distinct light on this obscure but interesting 
subject. Under the reign of Theodosius, after Chris- 
tianity had enjoyed, during more than sixty years, the 
sunshine of Imperial favour, the ancient and illustrious 
church of Antioch consisted of one hundred thousand 
persons, three thousand of whom were supported out 
of the public oblations. The splendour and dignity 
of the queen of the East, the acknowledged populous- 
ness of Caesarea, Seleucia, and Alexandria, and the 
destruction of two hundred and fifty thousai;d souls 
in the earthquake which afflicted Antioch under the 
elder Justin,*^ are so many convincing proofs that the 
whole number of its inhabitants was not less than half 
a million, and that the Christians, however multiplied 
by zeal and power, did not exceed a fifth part of that 
great city. How different a proportion must we adopt 

diffused over Pontus ; since in the middle of the third century 
there were no more than seventeen believers in the extensive 
diocese of Neo-Caesarea. 

8<J According to the ancients, Jesus Christ suffered imder the 
consulship of the two Gemini, in the year 29 of our present aera, 
Pliny was sent into Bithynia (according to Pagi) in the year no. 

81 John Malala, torn. ii. p. 144. He draws the same ^conclu- 
sion with regard to the populousness of Antioch. 


when we compare the persecuted with the triumphant 
church, the AFest with the East, remote villages with 
populous towns, and countries recently converted to 
the faith with the place where the believers first re- 
ceived the appellation of Christians ! It must not, 
however, be dissembled that, in another passage, 
Chrysostom, to whom we are indebted for this useful 
information, computes the multitude of the faithful as 
even superior to that of the Jews and Pagans. But 
the solution of this apparent difficulty is easy and 
obvious. The eloquent preacher draws a parallel be- 
tween the civil and the ecclesiastical constitution of 
Antioch ; between the list of Christians who had ac- 
quired Heaven by baptism and the list of citizens who 
had a right to share the public liberality. Slaves, 
strangers, and infants were comprised in the former ; 
they were excluded from the latter. 

The extensive commerce of Alexandria, and its 
proximity to Palestine, gave an easy entrance to the 
new religion. It was at first embraced by great 
numbers of the Therapeutfe, or Essenians of the lake 
Mareotis, a Jewish sect which had abated much of its 
reverence for the Mosaic ceremonies. The austere life 
of the Essenians, their fasts and excommunications, 
the community of goods, the love of celibacy, their 
zeal for martyrdom, and the warmth though not the 
purity of their faith, already offered a very lively image 
of the primitive disciplined'^ It was in the school of 
Alexandria that the Christian theology appears to have 
assumed a regular and scientifical form ; and, when 
Hadrian visited Egypt, he found a church, composed 

82 Basnage, Histoire des Juifs, 1. 2, c. 20, 21, 22, 23, has ex- 
amined, with the most critical accuracy, the curious treatise of 
Philo which describes the Therapeutae. By proving that it 
was composed as early as the time of Augustus, Basnage has 
demonstrated, in spite of Eusebius (1. ii. c. 17), and a crowd 
of modern Catholics, that the Therapeutae were neither Chris- 
tians nor monks. It still remains probable that they changed 
their name, preserved their manners, adopted some new articles 
of faith, and gradually became the fathers of the Egyptian 


of Jews and of Greeks, sufficiently important to attract 
the notice of that inquisitive prince.*^ But the pro- 
gress of Christianity was for a long time confined 
within the limits of a single city, which was itself a 
foreign colony^, and, till the close of the second cen- 
tury, the predecessors of Demetrius were the only 
prelates of the Egyptian church. Three bishops were 
consecrated by the hands of Demetrius, and the number 
was increased to twenty by his successor Heraclas,^^ 
The body of the natives, a people distinguished by 
a sullen inflexibility of temper, entertained the new 
doctrine with coldness and reluctance ; and even in 
the time of Origen it was rare to meet with an Egyptian 
who had surmounted his early prejudices in favour of 
the sacred animals of his country. As soon, indeed, 
as Christianity ascended the throne, the zeal of those 
barbarians obeyed the prevailing impulsion ; the cities 
of Egypt were filled with bishops, and the deserts of 
Thebais swarmed with hermits. 

A perpetual stream of strangers and provincials 
flowed into the capacious bosom of Rome. Whatever 
was strange or odious, whoever was guilty or suspected, 
might hope, in the obscurity of that immense capital, 
to elude the vigilance of the law. In such a various 
conflux of nations, every teacher, either of truth or of 
falsehood, every founder, whether of a virtuous or a 
criminal association, might easily multiply his disciples 
or accomplices. The Christians of Rome, at the time 
of the accidental persecution of Nero, are represented 
by Tacitus as already amounting to a very great multi- 
tude, and the language of that great historian is almost 
similar to the style employed by Livy, when he relates 
the introduction and the suppression of the rites of 

83 See a letter of Hadrian, in the Augustan History, p. 245. 

8^ For the succession of Alexandrian bishops, consult Re- 
naudot's History, p. 24, &c. This curious fact is preserved by 
the patriarch Eutychius (Annal. torn. i. p. 334, Vers. Pocock), 
and its internal evidence would alone be a sufficient answer to 
all the objections which Bishop Pearnos has urged in the Vin- 
diciae Ignatianae. 


Bacchus. After the Bacchanals had awakened the 
severity of the senate, it was likewise apprehended that 
a very great multitude, as it were another people, had 
been initiated into those abhorred mysteries. A more 
careful inquiry soon demonstrated that the offenders 
did not exceed seven thousand ; a number, indeed, 
sufficiently alarming, when considered as the object of 
public justice. ^^ It is with the same candid allowance 
that we should interpret the vague expressions of 
Tacitus, and in a former instance of Pliny, when they 
exaggerate the crowds of deluded fanatics who had 
forsaken the established worship of the gods. The 
church of Rome was undoubtedly the first and most 
populous of the empire ; and we are possessed of an 
authentic record which attests the state of religion in 
that city, about the middle of the third century, and 
after a peace of thirty-eight years. The clergy, at that 
time, consisted of a bishop, forty-six presbyters, seven 
deacons, as many sub-deacons, forty- two acolytes, and 
fifty readers, exorcists, and porters. The number of 
widows, of the infirm, and of the poor, who were 
maintained by the oblations of the faithful, amounted 
to fifteen hundred. From reason, as well as from the 
analogy of Antioch, we may venture to estimate the 
Christians of Rome at about fifty thousand. The 
populousness of that great capital cannot, perhaps, be 
exactly ascertained ; but the most modest calculation 
will not surely reduce it lower than a million of inhabi- 
tants, of whom the Christians might constitute at the 
most a twentieth part.^^ 

The western provincials appeared to have derived 
the knowledge of Christianity from the same source 

85 T. Liv. xxxix. 13, 15, 16, 17. Nothing could exceed the 
horror and consternation of the senate on the discovery of the 
Bacchanalians, whosede pravity is described, and perhaps ex- 
aggerated, by Livy. 

86 This proportion of the presbyters and of the poor to the 
rest of the people was originally fixed by Burnet (Travels into 
Italy, p. 168), and is approved by Moyle (vol. ii. p. 151). They 
were both unacquainted with the passage of Chrysostom, which 
converts their conjecture almost into a fact. 


which had diffused among them the language, the 
sentiments, and the manners of Rome. In this more 
important circumstance, Africa, as well as Gaul, was 
gradually fashioned to the imitation of the capital. 
Yet, notwithstanding the many favourable occasions 
which might invite the Roman missionaries to visit 
their Latin provinces, it was late before they passed 
either the sea or the Alps f' nor can we discover in 
those great countries any assured traces either of faith 
or of persecution that ascend higher than the reign of 
the Antonines.^ The slow progress of the gospel in 
the cold climate of Gaul was extremely different from 
the eagerness with which it seems to have been received 
on the burning sands of Africa. The African Christians 
soon formed one of the principal members of the 
primitive church. The practice introduced into that 
province of appointing bishops to the most inconsider- 
able towns, and very frequently to the most obscure 
villages, contributed to multiply the splendour and 
importance of their religious societies, which during 
the course of the third century were animated by the 
zeal of Tertullian, directed by the abilities of Cyprian, 
and adorned by the eloquence of Lactantius. But if, 
on the contrary, we turn our eyes towards Gaul, we 
must content ourselves with discovering, in the time 
of Marcus Antoninus, the feeble and united congrega- 
tions of Lyons and Vienna ; and, even as late as the 
reign of Decius, we are assured that in a few cities 
only, Aries, Narbonne, Toulouse, Limoges, Clermont, 
Tours, and Paris, some scattered churches were sup- 
ported by the devotion of a small number of Christians.^ 

87 According to the Donatists, whose assertion is confirmed by 
the tacit acknowledgment of Augustin, Africa was the last of 
the provinces which received the gospel. 

88 It is imagined that the Scyliitan martyrs were the first 
(Acta Sincera Ruinart. p. 34). One of the adversaries of 
Apuleius seems to have been a Christian. Apolog. pp. 496, 497, 
edit. Delphin. 

89 There is some reason to believe that, in the beginning of 
the fourth century, the extensive dioceses of Liege, of Treves, 
and of Cologne composed a single bishopric, which had been 


Silence is indeed very consistent with devotion, but, 
as it is seldom compatible with zeal, we may perceive 
and lament the languid state of Christianity in those 
provinces which had exchanged the Celtic for the 
Latin tongue ; since they did not, during the three 
first centuries, give birth to a single ecclesiastical 
writer. From Gaul, which claimed a just pre-eminence 
of learning and authority over all the countries on this 
side of the Alps, the light of the gospel was more 
faintly reflected on the remote provinces of Spain and 
Britain ; and, if we may credit the vehement assertions 
of Tertullian, they had already received the first rays 
of the faith when he addressed his apology to the 
magistrates of the emperor Severus.^'^ But the obscure 
and imperfect origin of the western churches of Europe 
has been so negligently recorded that, if we would 
relate the time and manner of their foundation, we 
must supply the silence of antiquity by those legends 
which avarice or superstition long afterwards dictated 
to the monks in the lazy gloom of their convents. ^^ 
Of these holy romances, that of the apostle St. James 
can alone, by its single extravagance, deserve to be 
mentioned. From a peaceful fisherman of the lake of 
Gennesareth, he was transformed into a valorous knight, 
who charged at the head of the Spanish chivalry in 
their battles against the Moors. The gravest historians 
have celebrated his exploits ; the miraculous shrine of 
Compostella displayed his power ; and the sword of a 
military order, assisted by the terrors of the Inquisition, 
was sufficient to remove every objection of profane 

very recently founded. See M^moires de Tillemont, torn. vi. 
part i, pp. 43, 411. 

90 The date of TertuUian's Apology is fixed, in a dissertation 
of Mosheim, to the year 198. 

91 In the fifteenth century, there were few who had either 
inclination or courage to question, whether Joseph of Arimathea 
founded the monastery of Glastonbury, and whether Dionysius 
the Areopagite preferred the residence of Paris to that of Athens. 

92 The stupendous metamorphosis was performed in the 
ninth century. 


The progress of Christianity was not confined to 
the Roman empire ; and, according to the primitive 
fathers, who interpret facts by prophecy, the new 
religion within a century after the death of its divine 
author, had already visited every part of the globe. 
•^ There exists not,'^ says Justin Martyr, "a people, 
whether Greek or barbarian, or any other race of men, 
by whatsoever appellation or manners they may be 
distinguished, however ignorant of arts or agriculture, 
whether they dwell under tents, or wander about in 
covered waggons, among whom prayers are not offered 
up in the name of a crucified Jesus to the Father and 
Creator of all things." But this splendid exaggera- 
tion, which even at present it would be extremely 
difficult to reconcile with the real state of mankind, 
can be considered only as the rash sally of a devout 
but careless writer, the measure of whose belief was 
regulated by that of his wishes. But neither the 
belief nor the wishes of the fathers can alter the truth 
of history. It will still remain an undoubted fact, 
that the barbarians of Scythia and Germany who after- 
wards subverted the Roman monarchy were involved 
in the darkness of paganism ; and that even the con- 
version of Iberia, of Armenia, or of -Ethiopia, was not 
attempted with any degree of success till the sceptre 
was in the hands of an orthodox emperor.^^ Before 
that time the various accidents of war and commerce 
might indeed diffuse an imperfect knowledge of the 
gospel among the tribes of Caledonia, ^^ and among 
the borderers of the Rhine, the Danube, and the 

93 See the fourth century of Mosheim's History of the Church. 
Many, though very confused circumstances, that relate to the 
conversion of Iberia and Armenia, may be found in Moses of 
Chorene, 1. ii. c. 78-89. 

9-1 According to Tertullian, the Christian faith had penetrated 
into parts of Britain inaccessible to the Roman arms. About a 
century afterwards, Ossian, the son of Fingal, is said to have 
disputed, in his extreme old age, with one of the foreign mis- 
sionaries, and the dispute is still extant, in verse, and in the Erse 

VOL. u. c 2 


Euphrates.^" Beyond the last-mentioned river, Edessa 
was distinguished by a firm and early adherence to 
the faith. ^ From Edessa the principles of Christianity 
were easily introduced into the Greek and Syrian cities 
which obeyed the successors of Artaxerxes ; but they 
do not appear to have made any deep impression on 
the minds of the Persians, whose religious system, by 
the labours of a well-disciplined order of priests, had 
been constructed with much more art and solidity than 
the uncertain mythology of Greece and Rome.^^ 

From this impartial, though imperfect, survey of 
the progress of Christianity, it may, perhaps, seem 
probable that the number of its proselytes has been 
excessively magnified by fear on the one side and by 
devotion on the other. According to the irreproach- 
able testimony of Origen, the proportion of the faith- 
ful was very inconsiderable when compared with the 
multitude of an unbelieving world ; but, as we are 
left without any distinct information, it is impossible 
to determine, and it is diflficult even to conjecture, the 
real numbers of the primitive Christians. The most 
favourable calculation, however, that can be deduced 
from the examples of Antioch and of Rome will not 
permit us to imagine that more than a twentieth part 
of the subjects of the empire had enlisted themselves 
under the banner of the cross before the important 
conversion of Constantino. But their habits of faith, 
of zeal, and of union seemed to multiply their numbers; 
and the same causes which contributed to their future 

95 The Goths, who ravaged Asia in the reign of Gallienus, 
carried away great numbers of captives ; some of whom were 
Christians, and became missionaries. 

^ The legend of Abgarus, fabulous as it is, affords a decisive 
proof that, many years before Eusebius wrote his history, the 
greatest part of the inhabitants of Edessa had embraced Chris- 
tianity. Their rivals, the citizens of Carrhae, adhered, on the 
contrary, to the cause of Paganism, as late as the sixth century. 

^ According to Bardesanes (ap. Euseb. Praepar. Evangel.), 
there were some Christians in Persia before the end of the 
second century. In the time of Constantine they composed a 
flourishing church. 


increase served to render their actual strength more 
apparent and more formidable. 

Such is the constitution of civil society that, whilst 
a few persons are distinguished by riches^ by honours, 
and by knowledge, the body of the people is condemned 
to obscurity, ignorance, and poverty. The Christian 
religion, which addressed itself to the whole human 
race, must consequently collect a far greater number 
of proselytes from the lower than from the superior 
ranks of life. This innocent and natural circumstance 
has been improved into a very odious imputation, 
which seems to be less strenuously denied by the 
apologists than it is urged by the adversaries of the 
faith ; that the new sect of Christians was almost 
entirely composed of the dregs of the populace, of 
peasants and mechanics, of boys and women, of beggars 
and slaves ; the last of whom might sometimes intro- 
duce the missionaries into the rich and noble families 
to which they belonged. These obscure teachers 
(such was the charge of malice and infidelity) are as 
mute in public as they are loquacious and dogmatical 
in private. Whilst they cautiously avoid the danger- 
ous encounter of philosophers, they mingle with the 
rude and illiterate crowd, and insinuate themselves 
into those minds, whom their age, their sex, or their 
education has the best disposed to receive the impres- 
sion of superstitious terrors. 

This unfavourable picture, though not devoid of a 
faint resemblance, betrays, by its dark colouring and 
distorted features, the pencil of an enemy. As the 
humble faith of Christ diffused itself through the 
world, it was embraced by several persons who derived 
some consequence from the advantages of nature or 
fortune. Aristides, who presented an eloquent apology 
to the emperor Hadrian, was an Athenian philosopher. 
Justin Martyr had sought divine knowledge in the 
schools of Zeno, of Aristotle, of Pythagoras, and of 
Plato, before he fortunately was accosted by the old 
man, or rather the angel, who turned his attention 
to the study of the Jewish prophets. Clemens of 


Alexandria had acquired much various reading in the 
Greek, and Tertullian in the Latin, language. Julius 
Africanus and Origen possessed a very considerable 
share of the learning of their times ; and, although 
the style of Cyprian is very different from that of 
Lactantius, we might almost discover that both those 
writers had been public teachers of rhetoric. Even 
the study of philosophy was at length introduced 
among the Christians, but it was not always productive 
of the most salutary effects ; knowledge was as often 
the parent of heresy as of devotion, and the description 
which was designed for the followers of Artemon may, 
with equal propriety, be applied to the various sects 
that resisted the successors of the apostles. " They 
presume to alter the holy scriptures, to abandon the 
ancient rule of faith, and to form their opinions accor- 
ding to the subtile precepts of logic. The science of 
the church is neglected for the study of geometry, and 
they lose sight of Heaven while they are employed in 
measuring the earth. Euclid is perpetually in their 
hands. Aristotle and Theophrastus are the objects of 
their admiration ; and they express an uncommon 
reverence for the works of Galen. Their errors are 
derived from the abuse of the arts and sciences of the 
infidels, and they corrupt the simplicity of the Gospel 
by the refinements of human reason." ^^ 

Nor can it be affirmed with truth that the advantages 
of birth and fortune were always separated from the 
profession of Christianity. Several Roman citizens 
were brought before the tribunal of Pliny, and he soon 
discovered that a great number of persons of every 
order of men in Bithynia had deserted the religion of 
their ancestors. His unsuspected testimony may, in 
this instance, obtain more credit than the bold chal- 
lenge of Tertullian, when he addresses himself to the 
fears as well as to the humanity of the proconsul of 
Africa, by assuring him that, if he persists in his cruel 

88 It may be hoped that none, except the heretics, gave oc- 
casion to the complaint of Celus that the Christians were per- 
petually correcting and altering their Gospels. 


intentions, he must decimate Carthage, and that he 
will find among the guilty many persons of his own 
rank, senators and matrons of nohlest extraction, and 
the friends or relations of his most intimate friends. 
It appears, however, that about forty years afterwards 
the emperor Valerian was persuaded of the truth of 
this assertion, since in one of his rescripts he evidently 
supposes that senators, Roman knights, and ladies 
of quality were engaged in the Christian sect The 
church still continued to increase its outward splen- 
dour as it lost its internal purity ; and in the reign of 
Diocletian the palace, the courts of justice, and even 
the army concealed a multitude of Christians who en- 
deavoured to reconcile the interests of the present 
with those of a future life. 

And yet these exceptions are either too few in 
number, or too recent in time, entirely to remove 
the imputation of ignorance and obscurity which has 
been so arrogantly cast on the first proselytes of 
Christianity. Instead of employing in our defence 
the fictions of later ages, it will be more prudent to 
convert the occasion of scandal into a subject of edi- 
fication. Our serious thoughts will suggest to us that 
the apostles themselves were chosen by providence 
among the fishermen of Galilee, and that, the lower we 
depress the temporal condition of the first Christians, 
the more reason we shall find to admire their merit 
and success. It is incumbent on us diligently to re- 
member that the kingdom of heaven was promised to 
the poor in spirit, and that minds aflSicted by calamity 
and the contempt of mankind cheerfully listen to the 
divine promise of future happiness ; while, on the con- 
trary, the fortunate are satisfied with the possession of 
this world ; and the wise abuse in doubt and dispute 
their vain superiority of reason and knowledge. 

We stand in need of such reflections to comfort us 
for the loss of some illustrious characters, which in 
our eyes might have seemed the most worthy of the 
heavenly present. The names of Seneca, of the elder 
and the younger Pliny, of Tacitus, of Plutarch, of 


Galen^ of the slave Epictetus, and of the emperor 
Marcus Antoninus, adorn the age in which they 
flourished_, and exalt the dignity of human nature. 
They filled with glory their respective stations, either 
in active or contemplative life ; their excellent under- 
standings were improved by study ; Philosophy had 
purified their minds from the prejudices of the popular 
superstition ; and their days were spent in the pursuit 
of truth and the practice of virtue. Yet all these sages 
(it is no less an object of surprise than of concern) 
overlooked or rejected the perfection of the Christian 
system. Their language or their silence equally dis- 
cover their contempt for the growing sect, which in 
their time had diffused itself over the Roman empire. 
Those among them who condescend to mention the 
Christians consider them only as obstinate and perverse 
enthusiasts, who exacted an implicit submission to 
their mysterious doctrines, without being able to pro- 
duce a single argument that could engage the attention 
of men of sense and learning.^ 

It is at least doubtful whether any of these philo- 
sophers perused the apologies which the primitive 
Christians repeatedly published in behalf of themselves 
and of their religion ; but it is much to be lamented 
that such a cause was not defended by abler advocates. 
Tliey expose with superfluous wit and eloquence the 
extravagance of Polytheism. They interest our com- 
passion by displaying the innocence and sufferings of 
their injured brethren. But, when they would demon- 
strate the divine origin of Christianity, they insist 
much more strongly on the predictions which an- 
nounced, than on the miracles which accompanied, 
the appearance of the Messiah. Their favourite argu- 
ment might serve to edify a Christian or to convert 

9^ Dr. Lardner, in his first and second volume of Jewish and 
Christian testimonies, collects and illustrates those of Pliny the 
younger, of Tacitus, of Galen, of Marcus Antoninus, and per- 
haps of Epictetus (for it is doubtful whether that philosopher 
means to speak of the Christians). The new sect is totally un- 
noticed by Seneca, the elder Pliny, and Plutarch. 


a Jew, since both the one and the other acknowledge 
the authority of those prophecies, and both are 
obliged, with devout reverence, to search for their 
sense and their accomplishment. But this mode of 
persuasion loses much of its weight and influence, 
when it is addressed to those who neither understand 
nor respect the Mosaic dispensation and the prophetic 
style. In the unskilful hands of Justin and of the suc- 
ceeding apologists, the sublime meaning of the Hebrew 
oracles evaporates in distant types, affected conceits, 
and cold allegories ; and even their authenticity was 
rendered suspicious to an unenlightened Gentile by 
the mixture of pious forgeries, which, under the names 
of Orpheus, Hermes, and the Sibyls, ^'^ were obtruded 
on him as of equal value with the genuine inspirations 
of Heaven. The adoption of fraud and sophistry in 
the defence of revelation too often remir''^ us of the 
injudicious conduct of those poets who load their 
invulnerable heroes with a useless weight of cumber- 
some and brittle armour. 

But how shall we excuse the supine inattention of 
the Pagan and philosophic world to those evidences 
which were presented by the hand of Omnipotence, 
not to their reason, but to their senses } During the 
age of Christ, of his apostles, and of their first disciples, 
the doctrine which they preached was confirmed by 
innumerable prodigies. The lame walked, the blind 
saw, the sick were healed, the dead were raised, 
daemons were expelled, and the laws of Nature were 
frequently suspended for the benefit of the church. 
But the sages of Greece and Rome turned aside from 
the awful spectacle, and, pursuing the ordinary occupa- 
tions of life and study, appeared unconscious of any 

100 The Philosophers, who derided the more ancient predic- 
tions of the Sibyls, would easily have detected the Jewish and 
Christian forgeries, which have been so triumphantly quoted 
by the fathers, from Justin Martyr to Lactantius. When the 
Sibylline verses had performed their appointed task, they, like 
the system of the millennium, were quietly laid aside. The 
Christian Sibyl had unluckily fixed the ruin of Rome for the 
year 195, A.u.c. 948. 


alterations in the moral or physical government of the 
world. Under the reign of TiberiuS;, the whole earth, ^*^^ 
or at least a celebrated province of the Roman empire, 
was involved in a praeternatural darkness of three 
hours. Even this miraculous event, which ought to 
have excited the wonder, the curiosity, and the devotion 
of mankind, passed without notice in an age of science 
and history.^02 j^ happened during the lifetime of 
Seneca and the elder Pliny, who must have experienced 
the immediate effects, or received the earliest intelli- 
gence, of the prodigy. Each of these philosophers, in a 
laborious work, has recorded all the great phenomena 
of Nature, earthquakes, meteors, comets, and eclipses, 
which his indefatigable curiosity could collect. Both 
the one and the other have omitted to mention the 
greatest phenomenon to which the mortal eye has been 
witness since the creation of the globe. A distinct 
chapter of Pliny is designed for eclipses of an extra- 
ordinary nature and unusual duration ; but he contents 
himself with describing the singular defect of light 
which followed the murder of Caesar, when, during the 
greatest part of the year, the orb of the sun appeared 
pale and without splendour. This season of obscurity, 
which cannot surely be compared with the praeter- 
natural darkness of the Passion, had been already 
celebrated by most of the poets and historians of that 
memorable age. 

^01 The fathers, as they are drawn out in battle array by Dom 
Calmet (Dissertations sur la Bible, torn. iii. pp. 295-308), seem 
to cover the whole earth with darkness, in which they are 
followed by most of the moderns. 

i<^ The celebrated passage of Phlegon is now wisely aban- 
doned. When TertuUian assures the Pagans that the mention 
of the prodigy is found in Arcanis (not Archivis) vestris (see his 
Apology, c. 21), he probably appeals to the Sibylline verses, 
which relate it exactly in the words of the gospel. 




If we seriously consider the purity of the Christian re- 
ligion, the sanctity of its moral precepts, and the inno- 
cent as well as austere lives of the greater number of those 
who, during the first ages, embraced the faith of the 
gospel, we should naturally suppose that so benevolent a 
doctrine would have been received with due reverence, 
even by the unbelieving world ; that the learned and 
the polite, however they might deride the miracles, 
would have esteemed the virtues of the new sect ; and 
that the magistrates, instead of persecuting, would 
have protected an order of men who yielded the most 
passive obedience to the laws, though they declined 
the active cares of war and government. If, on the 
other hand, we recollect the universal toleration of 
Polytheism, as it was invariably maintained by the 
faith of the people, the incredulity of philosophers, 
and the policy of the Roman senate and emperors, we 
are at a loss to discover what new offence the Christians 
had committed, what new provocation could exasperate 
the mild indifference of antiquity, and what new 
motives could urge the Roman princes, who beheld, 
without concern, a thousand forms of religion subsist- 
ing in peace under their gentle sway, to inflict a severe 
punishment on any part of their subjects, who had 
chosen for themselves a singular, but an inoffensive, 
mode of faith and worship. 

The religious policy of the ancient world seems to 
have assumed a more stern and intolerant character, 
to oppose the progress of Christianity. About four- 


score years after the death of Christy his innocent 
disciples were punished with death, by the sentence of 
a proconsul of the most amiable and philosophic char- 
acter, and, according to the laws of an emperor, dis- 
tinguished by the wisdom and justice of his general 
administration. The apologies which were repeatedly 
addressed to the successors of Trajan, are filled with 
the most pathetic complaints, that the Christians, who 
obeyed the dictates, and solicited the liberty, of 
conscience, were alone, among all the subjects of the 
Roman empire, excluded from the common benefits of 
their auspicious government. The deaths of a few 
eminent martyrs have been recorded with care ; and 
from the time that Christianity was invested with the 
supreme power, the governors of the church have been 
no less diligently employed in displaying the cruelty, 
than in imitating the conduct, of their Pagan adver- 
saries. To separate (if it be possible) a few authentic, 
as well as interesting, facts, from an undigested mass 
of fiction and error, and to relate, in a clear and 
rational manner, the causes, the extent, the duration, 
and the most important circumstances of the persecu- 
tions to which the first Christians w^ere exposed, is the 
design of the present Chapter. 

The sectaries of a persecuted religion, depressed by 
fear, animated with resentment, and perhaps heated 
by enthusiasm, are seldom in a proper temper of mind 
calmly to investigate, or candidly to appreciate, the 
motives of their enemies, which often escape the 
impartial and discerning view even of those who are 
placed at a secure distance from the flames of persecu- 
tion. A reason has been assigned for the conduct of 
the emperors towards the primitive Christians, which 
may appear the more specious and probable as it is 
drawn from the acknowledged genius of Polytheism. 
It has already been observed that the religious con- 
cord of the world was principally supported by the 
implicit assent and reverence which the nations of 
antiquity expressed for their respective traditions and 
ceremonies. It might therefore be expected that they 


would unite with indignation against any sect of people 
which should separate itself from the communion of 
mankind, and, claiming the exclusive possession of 
divine knowledge, should :disclain every form of worship, 
except its own, as impious and idolatrous. The rights 
of toleration were held by mutual indulgence ; they 
were justly forfeited by a refusal of the accustomed 
tribute. As the payment of this tribute was inflexibly 
refused by the Jews, and by them alone, the considera- 
tion of the treatment which they experienced from the 
Roman magistrates will serve to explain how far these 
speculations are justified by facts, and will lead us 
to discover the true causes of the persecution of 

Without repeating what has been already mentioned 
of the reverence of the Roman princes and governors 
for the temple of Jerusalem, we shall only observe that 
the destruction of the temple and city was accompanied 
and followed by every circumstance that could ex- 
asperate the minds of the conquerors, and authorise 
religious persecution by the most specious arguments 
of political justice and the public safety. From the 
reign of Nero to that of Antoninus Pius, the Jews 
discovered a fierce impatience of the dominion of 
Rome, which repeatedly broke out in the most furious 
massacres and insurrections. Humanity is shocked at 
the recital of the horrid cruelties which they committed 
in the cities of Egypt, of Cyprus, and of Cyrene, where 
they dwelt in treacherous friendship with the un- 
suspecting natives ; ^ and we are tempted to applaud 
the severe retaliation which was exercised by the arms 
of the legions against a race of fanatics, whose dire and 
credulous superstition seemed to render them the 
implacable enemies not only of the Roman government, 

1 In Cyrene they massacred 220,000 Greeks ; in Cyprus, 
240,000 ; in Egypt, a very great multitude. Many of these 
unhappy victims were sawed asunder, according to a precedent 
to which David had given the sanction of his example. The 
victorious Jews devoured the flesh, licked up the blood, and 
twisted the entrails like a girdle round their bodies. 


but of human kind.^ The enthusiasm of the Jews was 
supported by the opinion that it was unlawful for them 
to pay taxes to an idolatrous master ; and by the 
flattering promise which they derived from their 
ancient oracles, that a conquering Messiah would soon 
arise, destined to break their fetters and to invest the 
favourites of heaven with the empire of the earth. It 
was by announcing himself as their long-expected 
deliverer, and by calling on all the descendants of 
Abraham to assert the hope of Israel, that the famous 
Barchochebas collected a formidable army, with which 
he resisted, during two years, the power of the 
emperor Hadrian. 

Notwithstanding these repeated provocations, the 
resentment of the Roman princes expired after the 
victory ; nor were their apprehensions continued be- 
yond the period of war and danger. By the general 
indulgence of polytheism, and by the mild temper of 
Antoninus Pius, the Jews were restored to their ancient 
privileges, and once more obtained the permission of 
circumcising their children, with the easy restraint 
that they should never confer on any foreign proselyte 
that distinguishing mark of the Hebrew race. The 
numerous remains of that people, though they were 
still excluded from the precincts of Jerusalem, were 

f>ermitted to form and to maintain considerable estab- 
ishments both in Italy and in the provinces, to acquire 
the freedom of Rome, to enjoy municipal honours, and 
to obtain, at the same time, an exemption from the 
burdensome and expensive offices of society. The 
moderation or the contempt of the Romans gave a 
legal sanction to the form of ecclesiastical police which 
was instituted by the vanquished sect. The patriarch, 
who had fixed his residence at Tiberias, was empowered 
to appoint his subordinate ministers and apostles, to 

2 Without repeating the well-known narratives of Josephus, 
we may learn from Dion (1. Ixix. p. 1162) that in Hadrian's 
war 580,000 Jews were cut off by the sword, besides an 
infinite number which perished by famine, by disease, and by 


exercise a domestic jurisdiction, and to receive from 
his dispersed brethren an annual contribution. ^ New 
synagogues were frequently erected in the principal 
cities of the empire ; and the sabbaths, the fasts, and 
the festivals, which were either commanded by the 
Mosaic law or enjoined by the traditions of the Rabbis, 
were celebrated in the most solemn and public manner.* 
Such gentle treatment insensibly assuaged the stem 
temper of the Jews. Awakened from their dream of 
prophecy and conquest, they assumed the behaviour 
of peaceable and industrious subjects. Their irre- 
concileable hatred of mankind, instead of flaming out 
in acts of blood and violence, evaporated in less 
dangerous gratifications. They embraced every oppor- 
tunity of over-reaching the idolaters in trade ; and 
they pronounced secret and ambiguous imprecations 
against the haughty kingdom of Edom.° 

Since the Jews, who rejected with abhorrence the 
deities adored by their sovereign and by their fellow- 
subjects, enjoyed, however, the free exercise of their 
unsocial religion ; there must have existed some other 
cause, which exposed the disciples of Christ to those 
severities from which the posterity of Abraham was 
exempt The diiference between them is simple and 
obvious ; but, according to the sentiments of antiquity, 
it was of the highest importance. The Jews were a 
nation ; the Christians were a sect ; and, if it was 
natural for every community to respect the sacred 
institutions of their neighbours, it was incumbent on 

5 The office of Patriarch was suppressed by Theodosius the 

4 We need only mention the piorim, or deliverance of the 
Jews from the rage of Haman, which, till the reign of Theo- 
dosius, was celebrated with insolent triumph and riotous in- 

5 According to the false Josephus, Tsepho, the grandson of 
Esau, conducted into Italy the army of ^neas, king of Carthage. 
Another colony of Idumasans, flying from the sword of David, 
took refuge in the dominions of Romulus. For these, or for 
other reasons of equal weight, the name of Edom was applied 
by the Jews to the Roman empire. 


them to persevere in those of their ancestors. The 
voice of oracles, the precepts of philosophers and the 
authority of the laws unanimously enforced this national 
obligation. By their lofty claim of superior sanctity, 
the Jews might provoke the Polytheists to consider 
them as an odious and impure race. By disdaining 
the intercourse of other nations they might deserve 
their contempt. The laws of Moses might be for the 
most part frivolous or absurd ; yet, since they had 
been received during many ages by a large society, 
his followers were justified by the example of mankind ; 
and it was universally acknowledged that they had a 
right to practise what it would have been criminal in 
them to neglect. But this principle which protected 
the Jewish synagogue afforded not any favour or 
security to the primitive church. By embracing the 
faith of the Gospel, the Christians incurred the sup- 
posed guilt of an unnatural and unpardonable offence. 
They dissolved the sacred ties of custom and education, 
violated the religious institutions of their country, 
and presumptuously despised whatever their fathers 
had believed as true, or had reverenced as sacred. 
Nor was this apostacy (if we may use the expression) 
merely of a partial or local kind ; since the pious 
deserter who withdrew himself from the temples of 
Egypt or Syria would equally disdain to seek an asylum 
in those of Athens or Carthage. Every Christian re- 
jected with contempt the superstitions of his family, 
his city, and his province. The whole body of Chris- 
tians unanimously refused to hold any communion 
with the gods of Rome, of the empire, and of mankind. 
It was in vain that the oppressed believer asserted the 
inalienable rights of conscience and private judgment. 
Though his situation might excite the pity, his argu- 
ments could never reach the understanding, either of 
the philosophic or of the believing part of the Pagan 
world. To their apprehensions, it was no less a matter 
of surprise that any individuals should entertain 
scruples against complying with the established mode 
of worship, than if they had conceived a sudden abhor- 


rence to the manners, the dress, or the language of 
their native country.^ 

The surprise of the Pagans was soon succeeded by 
resentment ; and the most pious of men were exposed 
to the unjust but dangerous imputation of impiety. 
Malice and prejudice concurred in representing the 
Christians as a society of atheists, who, by the most 
daring attack on the religious constitution of the 
empire, had merited the severest animadversion of the 
civil magistrate. They had separated themselves (they 
gloried in the confession) from every mode of super- 
stition which was received in any part of the globe 
by the various temper of polytheism ; but it was not 
altogether so evident what deity or what form of 
worship they had substituted to the gods and temples 
of antiquity. The pure and sublime idea which they 
entertained of the Supreme Being escaped the gross 
conception of the Pagan multitude, who were at a loss 
to discover a spiritual and solitary God, that was 
neither represented under any corporeal figure or 
visible symbol, nor was adored with the accustomed 
pomp of libations and festivals, of altars and sacrifices. 
The sages of Greece and Rome, who had elevated their 
minds to the contemplation of the existence and attri- 
butes of the First Cause, were induced, by reason or 
by vanity, to reserve for themselves and their chosen 
disciples the privilege of this philosophical devotion." 
They were far from admitting the prejudices of man- 
kind as the standard of truth ; but they considered 
them as flowing from the original disposition of human 
nature ; and they supposed that any popular mode of 
faith and worship which presumed to disclaim the 
assistance of the senses would, in proportion as it 
receded from superstition, find itself incapable of 
restraining the wanderings of the fancy and the visions 

8 From the arguments of Celsus, as they are represented and 
refuted by Origen, we may clearly discover the distinction that 
was made between the Jewish people and the Christian sect. 

7 It is difficult (says Plato) to attain, and dangerous to pub- 
lish, the knowledge of the true God. 


of fanaticism. The careless glance Avhich men of wit 
and learning- condescended to cast on the Christian 
revelation served only to confirm their hasty opinion, 
and to persuade them that the principle, which they 
might have revered, of the divine unity was defaced 
by the wild enthusiasm, and annihilated by the airy 
speculations, of the new sectaries. The author of a 
celebrated dialogue which has been attributed to 
Lucian, whilst he affects to treat the mysterious sub- 
ject of the Trinity in a style of ridicule and contempt, 
betrays his own ignorance of the weakness of human 
reason, and of the inscrutable nature of the divine 

It might appear less surprising that the founder of 
Christianity should not only be revered by his disciples 
as a sage and a prophet, but that he should be adored 
as a God. The Polytheists were disposed to adopt 
every article of faith which seemed to oiFer any re- 
semblance, however distant or imperfect, with the 
popular mythology ; and the legends of Bacchus, of 
Hercules, and of ^sculapius had, in some measure, 
prepared their imagination for the appearance of the 
Son of God under a human forra.^ But they were 
astonished that the Christians should abandon the 
temples of those ancient heroes who, in the infancy of 
the world, had invented arts, instituted laws, and 
vanquished the tyrants or monsters who infested the 
earth ; in order to choose, for the exclusive object of 
their religious worship, an obscure teacher who, in a 
recent age, and among a barbarous people, had fallen 
a sacrifice either to the malice of his own countrymen 
or to the jealousy of the Roman government. The 
Pagan multitude, reserving their gratitude for temporal 
benefits alone, rejected the inestimable present of life 
and immortality which was offered to mankind by Jesus 

8 According to Justin Martyr (Apolog. Major, c. 70-85), the 
daemon, who had gained some imperfect knowledge of the 
prophecies, purposely contrived this resemblance, which might 
deter, though by different means, both the people and the 
philosophers from embracing the faith of Christ. 


of Nazareth. His mild constancy in the midst of cruel 
and voluntary sufferings, his universal benevolence, 
and the sublime simplicity of his actions and character 
were insufficient, in the opinion of those carnal men, 
to compensate for the want of fame, of empire, and of 
success ; and, whilst they refused to acknowledge his 
stupendous triumph over the powers of darkness and 
of the grave, they misrepresented, or they insulted, 
the equivocal birth, wandering life, and ignominious 
death of the divine Author of Christianity." ^ 

The personal guilt which every Christian had con- 
tracted, in thus preferring his private sentiment to the 
national religion, was aggravated, in a very high 
degree, by the number and union of the criminals. 
It is well known, and has been already observed, that 
Roman policy viewed with the utmost jealousy and 
distrust any association among its subjects ; and that 
the privileges of private corporations, though formed 
for the most harmless or beneficial purposes, were 
bestowed with a very sparing hand.^*^ The religious 
assemblies of the Christians, who had separated them- 
selves from the public worship, appeared of a much 
less innocent nature : they were illegal in their principle 
and in their consequences might become dangerous ; 
nor were the emperors conscious that they violated 
the laws of justice, when, for the peace of society, they 
prohibited those secret and sometimes nocturnal 
meetings. ^1 The pious disobedience of the Christians 
made their conduct, or perhaps their designs, appear 

9 In the first and second books of Origen, Celsus treats the 
birth and character of our Saviour with the most impious con- 
tempt. The orator Libanius praises Porphyry and Julian for 
confuting the folly of a sect which styled a dead man of Pales- 
tine God, and the Son of God. 

10 The emperor Trajan refused to incorporate a company of 
150 firemen, for the use of the city of Nicomedia, He disliked 
all associations. 

11 The proconsul Pliny had published a general edict against 
unlawful meetings. The prudence of the Christians suspended 
their Agapae ; but it was impossible for them to omit the exzr- 
cise of public worship. • 


in a much more serious and criminal lig-ht ; and the 
Roman princes, who might perhaps have suffered them- 
selves to be disarmed by a ready submission, deeming 
their honour concerned in the execution of their 
commands, sometimes attempted by rigorous punish- 
ments to subdue this independent spirit, which boldly 
acknowledged an authority superior to that of the 
magistrate. The extent and duration of this spiritual 
conspiracy seemed to render it every day more de- 
serving of his animadversion. We have already seen 
that the active and successful zeal of the Christians 
had insensibly diffused them through every province 
and almost every city of the empire. The new con- 
verts seemed to renounce their family and country, 
that they might connect themselves in an indissoluble 
bond of union with a peculiar society, which every- 
where assumed a different character from the rest of 
mankind. Their gloomy and austere aspect, their 
abhorrence of the common business and pleasures of 
life, and their frequent predictions of impending 
calamities,^^ inspired the Pagans with the apprehension 
of some danger which would arise from the new sect, 
the more alarming as it was the more obscure. "What- 
ever," says Pliny, " may be the principle of their con- 
duct, their inflexible obstinacy appeared deserving of 

The precautions with which the disciples of Christ 
performed the offices of religionjwere at first dictated 
by fear and necessity ; but they were continued from 
choice. By imitating the awful secrecy which reigned 
in the Eleusinian mysteries, the Christians had flattered 
themselves that they should render their sacred insti- 
tutions more respectable in the eyes of the Pagan 
world. But the event, as it often happens to the 
operations of subtile policy, deceived their wishes and 

12 As the prophecies of the Antichrist, approaching conflagra- 
tion, &c. , provoked those Pagans whom they did not convert, 
they were mentioned with caution and reserve ; and the Mon- 
tanists were censured for disclosing too freely the dangerous 
secret. * 


their expectations. It was concluded that they only 
concealed what they would have blushed to disclose 
Their mistaken prudence afforded an opportunity for 
malice to invent^ and for suspicious credulity to believe, 
the horrid tales which described the Christians as the 
most wicked of human kind, who practised in their 
dark recesses every abomination that a depraved fancy 
could sug-g-est, and who solicited the favour of their 
unknown God by the sacrifice of every moral virtue. 
There were many who pretended to confess or to relate 
the ceremonies of this abhorred society. It was as- 
serted, " that a new-born infant, entirely covered over 
with flour, was presented, like some mystic symbol of 
initiation, to the knife of the proselyte, who unknow- 
ingly inflicted many a secret and mortal wound on the 
innocent victim of his error ; that, as soon as the cruel 
deed was perpetrated, the sectaries drank up the blood, 
greedily tore asunder the quivering members, and 
pledged themselves to eternal secrecy, by a mutual 
consciousness of guilt. It was as confidently affirmed 
that this inhuman sacrifice was succeeded by a suitable 
entertainment, in which intemperance served as a 
provocative to brutal lust ; till, at the appointed 
moment, the lights were suddenly extinguished, shame 
was banished, nature was forgotten ; and, as accident 
might direct, the darkness of the night was polluted 
by the incestuous commerce of sisters and brothers,- 
of sons and of mothers." 

But the perusal of the ancient apologies was sufficient 
to remove even the slightest suspicion from the mind 
of a candid adversary. The Christians, with the in- 
trepid security of innocence, appeal from the voice of 
rumour to the equity of the magistrates. Tliey acknow- 
ledge that, if any proof can be produced of the crimes 
which calumny has imputed to them, they are worthy 
of the most severe punishment. They provoke the 
punishment, and they challenge the proof. At the 
same time they urge, with equal truth and propriety, 
that the charge is not less devoid of probability than 
it is destitute of evidence ; they ask whether any one 


can seriously believe that the pure and holy precepts 
of the Gospel, which so frequently restrains the use 
of the most lawful enjoyments, should inculcate the 
practice of the most abominable crimes ; that a large 
society should resolve to dishonour itself in the eyes 
of its own members ; and that a great number of 
persons of either sex, and every age and character, 
insensible to the fear of death or infamy, should con- 
sent to violate those principles which nature and edu- 
cation had imprinted most deeply in their minds. ^^ 
Nothing, it should seem, could weaken the force or 
destroy the effect of so unanswerable a justification, 
unless it were the injudicious conduct of the apologists 
themselves, who betrayed the common cause of religion, 
to gratify their devout hatred to the domestic enemies 
of the church. It was sometimes faintly insinuated, 
and sometimes boldly asserted, that the same bloody 
sacrifices, and the same incestuous festivals, which 
were so falsely ascribed to the orthodox believers, were 
in reality celebrated by the Marcionites, by the Car- 
pocratians, and by several other sects of the Gnostics, 
who, notwithstanding they might deviate into the paths 
of heresy, were still actuated by the sentiments of men, 
and still governed by the precepts of Christianity. 
Accusations of a similar kind were retorted upon the 
church by the schismatics who had departed from its 
communion : ^^ and it was confessed on all sides that 
the most scandalous licentiousness of manners pre- 
vailed among great numbers of those who affected the 
name of Christians. A Pagan magistrate, who pos- 

1' In the persecution of Lyons, some Gentile slaves were com- 
pelled, by the fear of tortures, to accuse their Christian master. 
The church of Lyons, writing to their brethren of Asia, treat 
the horrid charge with proper indignation and contempt. 

!•* When Tertullian became a Montanist, he aspersed the 
morals of the church which he had so resolutely defended. 
"Sed majoris est Agape, quia per banc adolescentes tui cum 
sororibus dormiunt, appendices scilicet gulae lascivia et luxuria." 
The 35th canon of the council of lUiberis provides against the 
scandals which too often polluted the vigils of the church, and 
disgraced the Christian name in the eyes of unbelievers. 


sessed neither leisure nor abilities to discern the almost 
imperceptible line which divides the orthodox faith 
from heretical pravity^ might easily have imagined 
that their mutual animosity had extorted the discovery 
of their common guilt. It was fortunate for the repose, 
or at least for the reputation, of the first Christians, 
that the magistrates sometimes proceeded with more 
temper and moderation than is usually consistent with 
religious zeal, and that they reported, as the impartial 
result of their judicial inquiry, that the sectaries who 
had deserted the established worship appeared to them 
sincere in their professions and blameless in their 
manners ; however they might incur, by their absurd 
and excessive superstition, the cens'ure of the laws.^^ 

History, which undertakes to record the transactions 
of the past, for the instruction of future, ages, would 
ill deserve that honourable office, if she condescended 
to plead the cause of tyrants, or to justify the maxims 
of persecution. It must, however, be acknowledged 
that the conduct of the emperors who appeared the 
least favourable to the primitive church is by no means 
so criminal as that of modern sovereigns who have 
employed the arm of violence and terror against the 
religious opinions of any part of their subjects. From 
their reflections, or even from their own feelings, a 
Charles V. or a Louis XIV. might have acquired a just 
knowledge of the rights of conscience, of the obligation 
of faith, and of the innocence of error. But the 
princes and magistrates of ancient Rome were strangers 
to those principles which inspired and authorised the 
inflexible obstinacy of the Christians in the cause of 
truth, nor could they themselves discover in their 
own breasts any motive which would have prompted 
them to refuse a legal, and as it were a natural, sub- 
mission to the sacred institutions of their country. 
The same reason which contributes to alleviate the 
guilt, must have tended to abate the rigour, of their 

15 Tertullian (Apolog. c. 2) expatiates on the fair and honour- 
able testimony of Pliny, with much reason, and some declama- 


persecutions. As tliey were actuated, not by the 
furious zeal of bigots, but by the temperate policy of 
legislators, contempt must often have relaxed, and 
humanity must frequently have suspended, the execu- 
tion of those laws which they enacted against the 
humble and obscure followers of Christ. From the 
general view of their character and motives we might 
naturally conclude : I. That a considerable time elapsed 
before they considered the new sectaries as an object 
deserving of the attention of government. II. That, 
in the conviction of any of their subjects who were 
accused of so very singular a crime, they proceeded 
with caution and reluctance. III. That they were 
moderate in the use of punishments ; and IV^. That the 
afflicted church enjoyed many intervals of peace and 
tranquillity. Notwithstanding the careless indiffer- 
ence which the most copious and the most minute of 
the Pagan writers have shown to the affairs of the 
Christians, ^^ it may still be in our power to confirm 
each of these probable suppositions by the evidence of 
authentic facts. 

I. By the wise dispensation of Providence, a mys- 
terious veil was cast over the infancy of the church, 
which, till the faith of the Christians was matured and 
their numbers were multiplied, served to protect them 
not only from the malice, but even from the know- 
ledge, of the Pagan world. The slow and gradual 
abolition of the Mosaic ceremonies afforded a safe and 
innocent disguise to the more early proselytes of the 
Gospel. As they were far the greater part of the race 
of Abraham, they were distinguished by the peculiar 
mark of circumcision, offered up their devotions in the 
Temple of Jerusalem till its final destruction, and 
received both the Law and the Prophets as the genuine 
inspirations of the Deity. The Gentile converts, who 

16 In the various compilation of the Augustan History (a part 
of which was composed under the reign of Constantine), there 
are not six lines which relate to the Christians ; nor has the 
diligence of Xiphilin discovered their name in the large history 
of Dion Cassius. 


by a spiritual adoption had been associated to the hope 
of Israel, were likewise confounded under the garb and 
appearance of Jews/'' and, as the Polytheists paid less 
reirard to articles of faith than to the external worship, 
the new sect, which carefully concealed, or faintly 
announced, its future greatness and ambition, was 
permitted to shelter itself under the general toleration 
which was granted to an ancient and celebrated people 
in the Roman empire. It was not long, perhaps, 
before the Jews themselves, animated with a fiercer 
zeal and a more jealous faith, perceived the gradual 
separation of their Nazarene brethren from the doctrine 
of the synagogue; and they would gladly have ex- 
tinguished the dangerous heresy in the blood of its 
adherents. But the deciees of heaven had already 
disarmed their malice ; and, though they might some- 
times exert the licentious privilege of sedition, they 
no longer possessed the administration of criminal 
justice; nor did they find it easy to infuse into the 
calm breast of a Roman magistrate the rancour of their 
own zeal and prejudice. The provincial governors 
declared themselves ready to listen to any accusation 
that might afi'ect the public safety ; but, as soon as 
they were informed that it was a question not of facts 
but of words, a dispute relating only to the interpreta- 
tion of tl>e Jewish laws and prophecies, they deemed it 
unworthy of the majesty of Rome seriously to discuss 
the obscure differences which might arise among a 
barbarous and superstitious people. The innocence of 
the first Christians was protected by ignorance and 
contempt ; and the tribunal of the Pagan magistrate 
often proved their most assured refuge against the 
fury of the synagogue.^® If, indeed, we were disposed 
to adopt the traditions of a too credulous antiquity, 

^ 17 An obscure passage of Suetonius (in Claud, c. 25) may 
seem to offer a proof how strangely the Jews and Christians of 
Rome were confounded with each other. 

^8 See in the xviiith and xxvth chapters of the Acts of the 
Apostles, the behaviour of Gallio, proconsul of Achaia, and of 
Festus, procurator of Judaea. 


we might relate the distant peregrinations, the wonder- 
ful achievements, and the various deaths, of the 
twelve apostles ; but a more accurate inquiry will 
induce us to doubt whether any of those persons who 
had been witnesses to the miracles of Christ were per- 
mitted, beyond the limits of Palestine, to seal with 
their blood the truth of their testimony. ^^ From the 
ordinary term of human life, it may very naturally be 
presumed that most of them were deceased before the 
discontent of the Jews broke out into that furious war 
which was terminated only by the ruin of Jerusalem. 
During a long period, from the death of Christ to that 
memorable rebellion, we cannot discover any traces of 
Roman intolerance, unless they are to be found in the 
sudden, the transient, but the cruel persecution, 
which was exercised by Nero against the Christians of 
the capital, thirty-five years after the former, and only 
two years before the latter of those great events. The 
character of the philosophic historian, to whom we are 
principally indebted for the knowledge of this singular 
transaction, would alone be sufficient to recommend it 
to our most attentive consideration. 

In the tenth year of the reign of Nero, the capital 
of the empire was afflicted by a fire which raged beyond 
the memory or example of former ages. The monu- 
ments of Grecian art and of Roman virtue, the trophies 
of the Punic and Gallic wars, the most holy temples, and 
the most splendid palaces were involved in one common 
destruction. Of the fourteen regions or quarters into 
which Rome was divided, four only subsisted entire, 
three were levelled with the ground, and the remaining 
seven, which had experienced the fury of the flames, 
displayed a melancholy prospect of ruin and desolation. 
The vigilance of government appears not to have 

1* In the time of TertuUian and Clemens of Alexandria, the 
glory of martyrdom was confined to St. Peter, St. Paul, and St. 
James. It was gradually bestowed on the rest of the apostles, 
by the more recent Greeks, who prudently selected for the 
theatre of their preaching and sufferings, some remote country 
beyond the limits of the Roman empire. 


neglected any of the precautions which might alleviate 
the sense of so dreadful a calamity. The Imperial 
gardens were thrown open to the distressed multitude, 
temporary buildings were erected for their accommo- 
dation, and a plentiful supply of corn and provisions 
was distributed at a very moderate price.^ The most 
generous policy seemed to have dictated the edicts 
which regulated the disposition of the streets and the 
construction of private houses ; and, as it usually 
happens in an age of prosperity, the conflagration of 
Rome, in the course of a few years, produced a new 
city, more regular and more beautiful than the former. 
But all the prudence and humanity affected by Nero 
on this occasion were insufficient to preserve him from 
the popular suspicion. Every crime might be imputed 
to the assassin of his wife and mother ; nor could the 
prince who prostituted his person and dignity on the 
theatre be deemed incapable of the most extravagant 
folly. The voice of rumour accused the emperor as 
the incendiary of his own capital ; and, as the most 
incredible stories are the best adapted to the genius of 
an enraged people, it was gravely reported, and firmly 
believed, that Nero, enjoying the calamity which he 
had occasioned, amused himself with singing to his 
lyre the destruction of ancient Troy.^^ To divert a 
suspicion which the power of despotism was unable to 
suppress the emperor resolved to substitute in his own 
place some fictitious criminals. '^ With this view 
(continues Tacitus) he inflicted the most exquisite 
tortures on those men, who, under the vulgar appel- 
lation of Christians, were already branded with de- 
served infamy. They derived their name and origin 
from Christ, who, in the reign of Tiberius, had suffered 
death, by the sentence of the procurator Pontius 

20 The price of wheat (probably of the modius) was reduced 
as low as terni nummi ; which would be equivalent to about 
fifteen shillings the English quarter, 

21 We may observe, that the rumour is mentioned by Tacitus 
with a very becoming distrust and hesitation, whilst it is greedily 
transcribed by Suetonius, and solemnly confirmed by Dion. 

VOL. II. r> 


Pilate.^ For a while this dire superstition was 
checked ; but it again burst forth, and not only spread 
itself over Judaea, the first seat of this mischievous 
sect, but was even introduced into Rome, the common 
asylum which receives and protects whatever is impure, 
whatever is atrocious. The confessions of those who 
were seized, discovered a great multitude of their ac- 
complices, and they were all convicted, not so much 
for the crime of setting fire to the city, as for their 
hatred of human kind.^^ They died in torments, and 
their torments were embittered by insult and deri- 
sion. Some were nailed on crosses ; others sewn up in 
the skins of wild beasts, and exposed to the fury of 
dogs ; others again, smeared over with combustible 
materials, were used as torches to illuminate the dark- 
ness of the night. The gardens of Nero were destined 
for the melancholy spectacle, which was accompanied 
with a horse race, and honoured with the presence of 
the emperor, who mingled with the populace in the 
dress and attitude of a charioteer. The guilt of the 
Christians deserved, indeed, the most exemplary 
punishment, but the public abhorrence was changed 

23 This testimony is alone suflBcient to expose the anachronism 
of the Jews, who place the birth of Christ near a century sooner. 
We may learn from Josephus (Antiquitat. xviii. 3), that the pro- 
curatorship of Pilate corresponded with the last ten years of 
Tiberius. A.D. 27-37. As to the particular time of the death 
of Christ, a very early tradition fixed it to the 25th of March, 
A.D. 29, under the consulship of the two Gemini. This date, 
which is adopted by Pagi, cardinal Noris, and Le Clerc, seems 
at least as probable as the vulgar aera, which is placed (I know 
not from what conjectures) four years later. 

23 Odio humani generis convicti. These words may either 
signify the hatred of mankind towards the Christians, or the 
hatred of the Christians towards mankind. I have preferred 
the latter sense, as the most agreeable to the style of Tacitus, 
and to the popular error, of which a precept of the Gospel (see 
Luke xiv. 26) had been, perhaps, the innocent occasion. But 
as the word convicti does not unite very happily with the rest 
of the sentence, fames Gronovius has preferred the reading 
of conjuncii, which is authorised by the valuable MS. of 


into commiseration, from the opinion that those un- 
happy wretches were sacrificed, not so much to the 
public welfare, as to the cruelty of a jealous tyrant." 
Those who survey, with a curious eye, the revolutions 
of mankind may observe that the gardens and circus 
of Nero on the Vatican, which were polluted with the 
blood of the first Christians, have been rendered still 
more famous by the triumph and by the abuse of the 
persecuted relig-ion. On the same spot, a temple, 
which far surpasses the ancient glories of the Capitol, 
has been since erected by the Christian Pontiffs, who, 
deriving their claim of universal dominion from an 
humble fishennan of Galilee, have succeeded to the 
throne of the Caesars, given laws to the barbarian 
conquerors of Rome, and extended their spiritual juris- 
diction from the coast of the Baltic to the shores of 
the Pacific Ocean. 

But it would be improper to dismiss this account of 
Nero's persecution, till we have made some observa- 
tions, that may serve to remove the difi^iculties with 
which it is perplexed and to throw some light on the 
subsequent history of the church. 

1. The most sceptical criticism is obliged to respect 
the truth of this extraordinary fact, and the integrity 
of this celebrated passage of Tacitus. The former is 
confirmed by the diligent and accurate Suetonius, who 
mentions the punishment which Nero inflicted on the 
Christians, a sect of men who had embraced a new and 
criminal superstition. ^^ The latter may be proved by 
the consent of the most ancient manuscripts ; by the 
inimitable character of the style of Tacitus ; by his 
reputation, which guarded his text from the interpola- 
tions of pious fraud ; and by the purport of his nar- 
ration, which accused the first Christians of the most 
atrocious crimes, without insinuating that they pos- 
sessed any miraculous or even magical powers above 

24 The epithet of malefica, which some sagacious commen- 
tators have translated magical, is considered by the more 
rational Mosheim as only synonymous to the exitiabilis of 


the rest of mankind. ^^ 2. Notwithstanding it is 
probable that Tacitus was born some years before the 
fire of Rome, he could derive only from reading and 
conversation the knowledge of an event which happened 
during his infancy. Before he gave himself to the 
Public, he calmly waited till his genius had attained 
its full maturity, and he was more than forty years of 
age, when a grateful regard for the memory of the 
virtuous Agricola extorted from him the most early of 
those historical compositions which will delight and 
instruct the most distant posterity. After making a 
trial of his strength in the life of Agricola and the 
description of Germany, he conceived, and at length 
executed, a more arduous work ; the history of Rome, 
in thirty books, from the fall of Nero to the accession 
of Nerva. The administration of Nerva introduced 
an age of justice and prosperity which Tacitus had 
destined for the occupation of his old age ; but, when 
he took a nearer view of his subject, judging, perhaps, 
that it was a more honourable or a less invidious office 
to record the vices of past tyrants than to celebrate 
the virtues of a reigning monarch, he chose rather to 
relate, under the form of annals, the actions of the 
four immediate successors of Augustus. To collect, 
to dispose, and to adorn a series of fourscore years in 
an immortal work, every sentence of which is pregnant 
with the deepest observations and the most lively 
images, was an undertaking sufficient to exercise the 
genius of Tacitus himself during the greatest part of 
his life. In the last years of the reign of Trajan, 
whilst the victorious monarch extended the power of 
Rome beyond its ancient limits, the historian was 
describing, in the second and fourth books of his 

25 The passage concerning Jesus Christ, which was inserted 
into the text of Josephus between the time of Origen and that 
of Eusebius, may furnish an example of no vulgar forgery. The 
accomplishment of the prophecies, the virtues, miracles and 
resurrection of Jesus are distinctly related. Josephus acknow- 
ledges that he was the Messiah, and hesitates whether he should 
call him a man. 


annals, the tyranny of Tiberius ; and the emperor 
Hadrian must have succeeded to the throne, before 
Tacitus, in the reg-ular prosecution of his work, could 
relate the fire of the capital and the cruelty of Nero 
towards the unfortunate Christians. At the distance 
of sixty years, it was the duty of the annalist to adopt 
the narratives of contemporaries ; but it was natural for 
the philosopher to indulg-e himself in the description 
of the origin, the progress, and the character of the 
new sect, not so much according to the knowledge or 
prejudices of the age of Nero, as according to tho>e 
of the time of Hadrian. 3. Tacitus very frequently 
trusts to the curiosity or reflection of his readers to 
supply those intermediate circumstances and ideas 
which, in his extreme conciseness, he has thought 
proper to suppress. We may, therefore, presume to 
imagine some probable cause which could direct the 
cruelty of Nero against the Christians of Rome, whose 
obscurity, as well as innocence, should have shielded 
them from his indignation, and even from his notice. 
The Jews, who were numerous in the capital, ani 
oppressed in their own country, were a much fitter 
object for the suspicions of the emperor and of the 
people ; nor did it seem unlikely that a vanquished 
nation, who already discovered their abhorrence of 
the Roman yoke, might have recourse to the most 
atrocious means of gratifying their implacable revenge. 
But the Jews possessed very powerful advocates in the 
palace, and even in the heart of the tyrant ; his wife 
and mistress, the beautiful Poppaea, and a favourite 
player of the race of Abraham, who had already 
employed their intercession in behalf of the obnoxious 
people.2^ In their room it was necessary to offer some 
other victims, and it might easily be suggested, that, 
although the genuine followers of Moses were innocent 

26 The player's name was Aliturus. Through the same 
channel, Josephus, about two years before, had obtained the 
pardon and release of some Jewish priests, who were prisonei s 
at Rome. 


of the fire of Rome^ there had arisen among them a 
new and pernicious sect of Galik«;ans, which was 
capable of the most horrid crimes. Under the ap- 
pellation of Galil^eans^ two distinctions of men were 
confounded, the most opposite to each other in their 
manners and principles ; the disciples who had em- 
braced the faith of Jesus of Nazareth, ^7 and the zealots 
who had followed the standard of Judas the Gaulonite.^^ 
The former were the friends, and the latter were the 
enemies, of human kind ; and the only resemblance 
between them consisted in the same inflexible con- 
stancy which, in the defence of their cause, rendered 
them insensible of death and tortures. The followers 
of Judas, who impelled their countrymen into rebellion, 
were soon buried under the ruins of Jerusalem ; whilst 
those of Jesus, known by the more celebrated name of 
Christians, diffused themselves over the Roman empire. 
How natural was it for Tacitus, in the time of Hadrian^ 
to appropriate to the Christians the gnilt and the suf- 
ferings which he might, with far greater truth and 
justice, have attributed to a sect whose odious memory 
was almost extinguished ! 4, WTiatever opinion may 
be entertained of this conjecture (for it is no more 
than a conjecture), it is evident that the eff"ect, as 
well as the cause, of Nero's persecution were confined 
to the walls of Rome ; that the religious tenets of 
the Galilaeans, or Christians, were never made a subject 
of punishment or even of inquiry ; and that, as the 
idea of their sufferings was, for a long time, connected 
with the idea of cruelty and injustice, the moderation 
of succeeding princes inclined them to spare a sect, 

27 The learned Dr. Lardner (Jewish and Heathen Testi- 
monies, vol. ii. pp. I02, 103) has proved that the name of 
Galilaeans was a very ancient and, perhaps, the primitive 
appellation of the Christians. 

28 The sons of Judas were crucified in the time of Claudius. 
His grandson Eleazar, after Jerusalem was taken, defended a 
strong fortress with 960 of his most desperate followers. When 
the battering ram had made a breach, they turned their swords 
against their wives, their children, and at length against their 
own breasts. They died to the last man. 


oppressed by a tyrant whose rag-e had been usually 
directed against virtue and innocence. 

It is somewhat remarkable that the flames of war 
consumed almost at the same time the temple of Jeru- 
salem and the Capitol of Rome ; ^ and it appears no 
less singular that the tribute which devotion had 
destined to the former should have been converted 
by the power of an assaulting victor to restore and 
adore the splendour of the latter."*^ The emperors 
levied a general capitation tax on the Jewish people ; 
and, although the sum assessed on the head of each 
individual was inconsiderable, the use for which it was 
designed, and the severity with which it was exacted, 
were considered as an intolerable grievance. Since 
the officers of the revenue extended their unjust claim 
to many persons who were strangers to the blood or 
religion of the Jews, it was impossible that the Chris- 
tians, who had so often sheltered themselves under the 
shade of the synagogue, should now escape this rapa- 
cious persecution. Anxious as they were to avoid the 
slightest infection of idolatry, their conscience forbade 
them to contribute to the honour of that daemon who 
had assumed the character of the Capitoline Jupiter. 
As a very numerous, though declining, party among 
the Christians still adhered to the law of Moses, their 
efforts to dissemble their Jewish origin were detected 
by the decisive test of circumcision,^^ nor were the 

29 The Capitol was burnt during the civil war between Vitel- 
lius and Vespasian, the 19th of December, A.D. 69. On the 
loth of August, A.D. 70, the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed 
by the hands of the Jews themselves, rather than by those of 
the Romans. 

30 The new Capitol was dedicated by Domitian. The gilding 
alone cost 12,000 talents (above two millions and a half). It 
was the opinion of Martial (1. ix. Epigram 3) that, if the em- 
peror had called in his debts, Jupiter himself, even though he 
had made a general auction of Olympus, would have been 
unable to pay two shillings in the pound. 

'1 Suetonius (in Domitian. c. 12) had seen an old man of 
ninety publicly examined before the procurator's tribunal. 
This is what Martial calls, Mentula tributis damnata. 


Roman magistrates at leisure to inquire into the differ- 
ence of their religious tenets. Among the Christians 
who were brought before the tribunal of the emperor, 
or, as it seems more probable, before that of the pro- 
curator of Judaea, two persons are said to have appeared, 
distinguished by their extraction, which was more 
truly noble than that of the greatest monarchs. These 
were the grandsons of St. Jude the apostle, who 
himself was the brother of Jesus Christ.^^ Their 
natural pretensions to the throne of David might 
perhaps attract the respect of the people, and excite 
the jealousy of the governor ; but the meanness of 
their garb and the simplicity of their answers soon 
convinced him that they were neither desirous nor 
capable of disturbing the peace of the Roman empire. 
They frankly confessed their royal origin and their 
near relation to the Messiah ; but they disclaimed any 
temporal views, and professed that his kingdom, which 
they devoutly expected, was purely of a spiritual 
and angelic nature. \Vlien they were examined con- 
cerning their fortune and occupation, they showed 
their hands hardened with daily labour, and declared 
that they derived their whole subsistence from the 
cultivation of a farm near the village of Cocaba, of the 
extent of about twenty-four English acres, and of the 
value of nine thousand drachms, or three hundred 
pounds sterling. The grandsons of St. Jude were dis- 
missed with compassion and contempt. 

But, although the obscurity of the house of David 
might protect them from the suspicions of a tyrant, 
the present greatness of his own family alarmed the 

32 This appellation was at first understood in the most obvious 
sense, and it was supposed that the brothers of Jesus were the 
lawful issue of Joseph and of Mary. A devout respect for the 
virginity of the Mother of God suggested to the Gnostics, and 
afterwards to the orthodox Greeks, the expedient of bestowing 
a second wife on Joseph. The Latins (from the time of Jerome) 
improved on that hint, asserted the perpetual celibacy of Joseph, 
and justified, by many similar examples, the new interpretation 
that Jude, as well as Simon and James, who are styled the 
brothers of Jesus Christ, were only his first cousins. 


pusillanimous temper of Domitian, which could only 
be appeased by the blood of those Romans whom he 
either feared, or hated, or esteemed. Of the two sons 
of his uncle Flavius Sabinus, the elder was soon con- 
victed of treasonable intentions, and the younger, who 
bore the name of Flavius Clemens, was indebted for 
his safety to his want of courage and ability. The 
emperor, for a long time, distinguished so harmless 
a kinsman by his favour and protection, bestowed on 
him his own niece Domitilla, adopted the children of 
that marriage to the hope of the succession, and in- 
vested their father with the honours of the consulship. 
But he had scarcely finished the term of his annual 
magistracy, when, on a slight pretence, he was con- 
demned and executed ; Domitilla was banished to a 
desolate island on the coast of Campania ; ^^ and 
sentences either of death or of confiscation were pro- 
nounced against a great number of persons who were 
involved in the same accusation. The guilt imputed to 
their charge was that of Atheism and Jcvn^sh manners ;^^ 
a singular association of ideas, which cannot with any 
propriety be applied except to the Christians, as they 
were obscurely and imperfectly viewed by the magis- 
trates and by the writers of that period. On the 
strength of so probable an interpretation, and too 
eagerly admitting the suspicions of a tyrant as an 
evidence of their honourable crime, the church has 
placed both Clemens and Domitilla among its first 
martyrs, and has branded the cruelty of Domitian 
with the name of the second persecution. But this 
persecution (if it deserves that epithet) was of no long 

33 The isle of Pandataria, according to Dion. Bruttius Prae- 
sens (apud Euseb. iii. i8) banishes her to that of Pontia, which 
was not far distant from the other. That difference, and a 
mistake, either of Eusebius or of his transcribers, have given 
occasion to suppose two Domitillas, the wife and the niece of 

34 If the Bruttius Prsesens, from whom it is probable that he 
collected this account, was the correspondent of Pliny (Epistol. 
vii. 3), we may consider him as a contemporary writer. 

VOL. II. D 2 


duration. A few months after the death of Clemens 
and the banishment of Domitilla, Stephen, a freedman 
belonging to the latter, who had enjoyed the favour, 
but who had not surely embraced the faith, of his 
mistress, assassinated the emperor in his palace. The 
memory of Domitian vvas condemned by the senate ; 
his acts were rescinded ; his exiles recalled ; and under 
the gentle administration of Nerva, while the innocent 
were restored to their rank and fortunes, even the 
most guilty either obtained pardon or escaped punish- 

II. About ten years afterwards, under the reign of 
Trajan, the younger Pliny was intrusted by his friend 
and master with the government of Bithynia and 
Pontus. He soon found himself at a loss to determine 
by what rule of justice or of law he should direct his 
conduct in the execution of an office the most repug- 
nant to his humanity. Pliny had never assisted at 
any judicial proceedings against the Christians, with 
whose name alone he seems to be acquainted ; and he 
was totally uninformed with regard to the nature of 
their guilt, the method of their conviction, and the 
degree of their punishment. In this perplexity he 
had recourse to his usual expedient, of submitting to 
the wisdom of Trajan an impartial and, in some re- 
spects, a favourable account of the new superstition, 
requesting the emperor that he would condescend to 
resolve his doubts and to instruct his ignorance. ITie 
life of Pliny had been employed in the acquisition of 
learning, and in the business of the world. Since the 
age of nineteen he had pleaded with distinction in the 
tribunals of Rome,^ filled a place in the senate, had 
been invested with the honours of the consulship, and 
had formed very numerous connections with every order 
of men, both in Italy and in the provinces. From his 
ignorance, therefore, we may derive some useful in- 
formation. We may assure ourselves that when he 

55 Plin. Epist. V. 8. He pleaded his first cause A.D. 8i ; the 
year after the famous eruptions of Mount Vesuvius, in which 
his uncle lost his life. 


accepted the government of Bithynia there were no 
general laws or decrees of the senate in force against 
the Christians ; that neither Trajan nor any of his 
virtuous predecessors, whose edicts were received into 
the civil and criminal jurisprudence, had publicly de- 
clared their intentions concerning the new sect ; and 
that, whatever proceedings had been carried on against 
the Christians, there were none of sufficient weight 
and authority to establish a precedent for the conduct 
of a Roman magistrate. 

The answer of Trajan, to which the Christians of 
the succeeding age have frequently appealed, discovers 
as much regard for justice and humanity as could be 
reconciled with his mistaken notions of religious policy. 
Instead of displaying the implacable zeal of an in- 
quisitor, anxious to discover the most minute particles 
of heresy and exulting in the number of his victims, 
the emperor expresses much more solicitude to protect 
the security of the innocent than to prevent the escape 
of the guilty. He acknowledges the difficulty of fixing 
any general plan ; but he lays down two salutary rules, 
which often afi'orded relief and support to the dis- 
tressed Christians. Though he directs the magistrates 
to punish such persons as are legally convicted, he 
prohibits them, with a very humane inconsistency, 
from making any inquiries concerning the supposed 
criminals. Nor was the magistrate allowed to proceed 
on every kind of information. Anonymous charges 
the emperor rejects, as too repugnant to the equity of 
his government ; and he strictly requires, for the con- 
viction of those to whom the guilt of Christianity is 
imputed, the positive evidence of a fair and open 
accuser. It is likewise probable that the persons who 
assumed so invidious an office were obliged to declare 
the grounds of their suspicions, to specify (both in 
respect to time and place) the secret assemblies which 
their Christian adversary had frequented, and to dis- 
close a great number of circumstances which were 
concealed with the most vigilant jealousy from the 
eye of the profane. If they succeeded in their prose- 


cution^ they were exposed to the resentment of a 
considerable and active party, to the censure of the 
more liberal portion of mankind, and to the ignominy 
which, in every age and country, has attended the 
character of an informer. If, on the contrary, they 
failed in their jiroofs, they incurred the severe, and 
perhaps capital, penalty which, according to a law 
published by the emperor Hadrian, was inflicted on 
those who falsely attributed to their fellow-citizens 
the crime of Christianity. The violence of personal 
or superstitious animosity might sometimes prevail 
over the most natural apprehensions of disgrace and 
danger ; but it cannot surely be imagined that accusa- 
tions of so unpromising an appearance were either 
lightly or frequently undertaken by the Pagan subjects 
of the Roman empire.^^ 

ITie expedient which was employed to elude the 
prudence of the laws affords a sufficient proof how 
effectually they disappointed the mischievous designs 
of private malice or superstitious zeal. In a large and 
tumultuous assembly, the restraints of fear and shame, 
so forcible on the minds of individuals, are deprived 
of the greatest part of their influence. The pious 
Christian, as he was desirous to obtain or to escape 
the glory of martyrdom, expected, either with im- 
patience or with terror, the stated returns of the public 
games and festivals. On those occasions, the inhabi- 
tants of the great cities of the empire were collected 
in the circus of the theatre, where every circumstance 
of the place, as well as of the ceremony, contributed 
to kindle their devotion and to extinguish their 
humanity. Whilst the numerous spectators, crowned 
with garlands, perfumed witli incense, purified with 
the blood of victims, and surrounded with the altars 

36 Eusebius (Hist. Ecclesiast. 1. iv. c. 9) has preserved the 
edict of Hadrian. He has likewise (c. 13) given us one still 
more favourable under the name of Antoninus ; the authenticity 
of which is not so universally allowed. The second Apology of 
Justin contains some curious particulars relative to the accusa- 
tions of Christians. 


d statues of tlieir tutelar deities, resigned themselves 

to the enjoyment of pleasures which they considered 

MS an essential part of their religious worship ; they 

recollected that the Christians alone abhorred the 

:ods of mankind, and by their absence and melancholy 

oil these solemn festivals seemed to insult or to lament 

the public felicity. If the empire had been afflicted 

"jy any recent caiamity_, by a plague^ a famine, or an 

iiisuccessfulwar ; if the Tiber had, or if the Nile had 

liot, risen beyond its banks ; if the earth had shaken, 

or if the temperate order of the seasons had been 

interrupted, the superstitious Pagans were convinced 

that the crimes and the impiety of the Christians, who 

' ^re spared by the excessive lenity of the government, 

1 at length provoked the Divine Justice. It was 

: among a licentious and exasperated populace that 

tiie forms of legal proceedings could be observed ; it not in an amphitheatre, stained with the blood of 

-■. ild beasts and gladiators, that the voice of compassion 

could be heard. The impatient clamours of the multi- 

Vdde denounced the Christians as the enemies of gods 

tnd men, doomed them to the severest tortures, and, 

ituring to accuse by name some of the most dis- 

gruished of the new sectaries, required, with irre- 

- ^tible vehemence, that they should be instantly 

aDprehended and cast to the lions. ^^ The provincial 

sovernors and magistrates who presided in the public 

5l)8ctacles were usually inclined to gratify the inclina- 

; tions, and to appease the rage, of the people by the 

I sacrifice of a few obnoxious victims. But the wisdom 

i of the emperors protected the church from the danger 

of these tumultuous clamours and irregular accusa- 

, tiuus, which they justly censured as repugnant both 

I to the firmness and to the equity of their administra- 

I tiou. The edicts of Hadrian and of Antoninus Pius 

exjjressly declared that the voice of the multitude 

should never be admitted as legal evidence to convict 

I 37 The acts of the martyrdom of Polycarp exhibit a lively 
picture of these tumults, which were usually fomented by the 
ffialice of the Tews. 


or to punish those unfortunate persons who had em- 
braced the enthusiasm of the Christians. ^^ 

III. Punishment was not the inevitable consequence 
of conviction, and the Christians, whose guilt was the 
most clearly proved by the testimony of witnesses, or 
even by their voluntary confession, still retained in 
their own power the alternative of life or death. It 
was not so much the past offence, as the actual resist- 
ance, which excited the indignation of the magistrate. 
He was persuaded that he offered them an easy pardon, 
since, if they consented to cast a few grains of incense 
upon the altar, they were dismissed from the tribunal 
in safety and with applause. It was esteemed the duty 
of a humane judge to endeavour to reclaim, rather 
than to punish, those deluded enthusiasts. Varying 
his tone according to the age, the sex, or the situation 
of the prisoners, he frequently condescended to set 
before their eyes every circumstance which could 
render life more pleasing, or death more terrible ; and 
to solicit, nay, to entreat them, that they would show 
some compassion to themselves, to their families, and 
to their friends. If threats and persuasions proved 
ineffectual, he had often recourse to violence ; the 
scourge and the rack were called in to supply the 
deficiency of argument, and every act of cruelty was 
employed to subdue such inflexible and, as it appeared 
to the Pagans, such criminal obstinacy. The ancient 
apologists of Christianity have censured, with equal 
truth and severity, the irregular conduct of their per- 
secutors, who, contrary to every principle of judicial 
proceeding, admitted the use of torture, in order to 
obtain not a confession but a denial of the crime which 
was the object of their inquiry. The monks of suc- 
ceeding ages, who, in their peaceful solitudes, enter- 
tained themselves with diversifying the death and 
sufferings of the primitive martyrs, have frequently 
invented torments of a much more refined and in- 
genious nature. In particular, it has pleased them to 

88 These regulations are inserted in the above-mentioned 
edicts of Hadrian and Pius. 


suppose that the zeal of the Roman magistrates^ dis- 
daining every consideration of moral virtue or public 
decency,, endeavoured to seduce those whom they were 
unable to vanquish, and that, by their orders, the most 
brutal violence was offered to those whom they found 
it impossible to seduce. It is related that pious females, 
who were prepared to despise death, were sometimes 
condemned to a more severe trial, and called upon to 
determine whether they set a higher value on their 
religion or on their chastity. The youths to whose 
licentious embraces they were abandoned received a 
solemn exhortation from the judge to exert their most 
strenuous efforts to maintain the honour of Venus 
against the impious virgin who refused to burn incense 
on her altars. Their violence, however, was com- 
monly disappointed ; and the seasonable interposition 
of some miraculous power preserved the chaste spouses 
of Christ from the dishonour even of an involuntary 
defeat. We should not, indeed, neglect to remark 
that the more ancient, as well as authentic, memorials 
of the church are seldom polluted with those extra- 
vagant and indecent fictions.^ 

llie total disregard of truth and probability in the 
representation of these primitive martyrdoms was occa- 
sioned by a very natural mistake. The ecclesiastical 
writers of the fourth or fifth centuries ascribed to the 
magistrates of Rome the same degree of implacable 
and unrelenting zeal which filled their own breasts 
against the heretics or the idolaters of their own times. 
It is not improbable that some of those persons who 
were raised to the dignities of the empire might have 
imbibed the prejudices of the populace, and that the 
cruel disposition of others might occasionally be stimu- 
lated by motives of avarice or of personal resentment.*^ 

39 Jerome, in his Legend of Paul the Hermit, tells a strange 
story of a young man, who was chained naked on a bed of 
flowers, and assaulted by a beautiful and wanton courtezan. 
He quelled the rising temptation by biting off his tongne. 

40 The conversion of his wife provoked Claudius Herminianus, 
governor of Cappadocia, to treat the Christians with uncommon 


But it is certain, and we may appeal to the grateful 
confessions of the first Christians, that the greatest 
part of those magistrates who exercised in the provinces 
the authority of the emperor, or of the senate, and to 
whose hands alone the jurisdiction of life and death 
was intrusted, behaved like men of polished manners 
and liberal educations, who respected the rules of 
justice, and who were conversant with the precepts 
of philosophy. They frequently declined the odious 
task of persecution, dismissed the charge with con- 
tempt, or suggested to the accused Christian some 
legal evasion by which he might elude the severity of 
the laws.^^ Whenever they were invested with a dis- 
cretionary power, they used it much less for tlie 
oppression than for the relief and benefit of the afflicted 
church. They were far from condemning all the 
Christians who were accused before their tribunal, and 
very far from punishing with death all those who were 
convicted of an obstinate adherence to tlie new super- 
stition. Contenting themselves, for the most part, 
with the milder chastisements of imprisonment, exile, 
or slavery in the mines,''^ they left the unhappy victims 
of their justice some reason to hope that a prosperous 
event, the accession, the marriage, or the triumph of 
an emperor might speedily restore them, by a general 
pardon, to their former state. The martyrs, devoted 
to immediate execution by the Roman magistrates, 
appear to have been selected from the most opposite 
extremes. They were either bishops and presbyters, 
the persons the most distinguished among the Christians 
by their rank and influence, and whose example might 
strike terror into the whole sect ; '^^ or else they were 

« TertuUian, in his epistle to the governor of Africa, men- 
tions several remarkable instances of lenity and forbearance 
which had happened within his knowledge. 

42 The mines of Numidia contained nine bishops, with a pro- 
portionable number of their clergy and people, to whom Cyprian 
addressed a pious epistle of praise and comfort. 

■*3 Though we cannot receive with entire confidence either the 
epistles or the acts of Ignatius (they may be found in the and 


the meanest aud most abject amoii^ them, particularly 
those of the servile coiiditiou, whose lives were esteemed 
of little value, aud wliose surferiugs were viewed by 
the ancieuts with too careless an indifference.^* The 
learned Origeu, who, from his experience as well as 
reading-, was intimately acquainted with the liistory of 
the Christians, declares, in the most express terms, that 
the number of martyrs was very inconsiderable. His 
authoritv would alone be sufficient to annihilate that 
formidable army of martyrs whose relics, drawn for the 
most part from the catacombs of Rome, have replenished 
so mauv churches,^^ and whose marvellous achieve- 
ments have been the subject of so many volumes of 
holy romance.^ But the general assertion of Origen 
may be explained and confirmed by the particular 

volume of the ApostoHc Fathers), yet we may quote that bishop 
of Antioch as one of those exemplary manyrs. He was sent in 
chains to Rome as a public spectacle ; and, when he arrived at 
Troas, he received the pleasing intelligence that the persecution 
of Antioch was already at an end. 

** Among the martyrs of Lyons (Euseb. 1. v, c. i), the slave 
Blandina was distinguished by more exquisite tortures. Of the 
five mart}TS so much celebrated in the acts of Felicitas and 
Perpetua, two were of a servile, and two others of a very mean, 

^ If we recollect that all the Plebeians of Rome were not 
Christians, and that all the Christians were not saints and 
martyrs, we may judge with how much safety rehgious honours 
can be ascribed to bones or urns indiscriminately taken from 
the pubhc burial-place. After ten centuries of a very free and 
open trade, some suspicions have arisen among the more 
learned Catholics. They now require, as a proof of sanctity 
and martyrdom, the letters B. M., a vial full of red Uquor, sup- 
posed to be blood, or the figure of a palm tree. But the two 
former signs are of httle weight, and with regard to the last it 
is observed by the critics, i. That the figure, as it is called, of a 
palm is perhaps a cypress, and perhaps only a stop, the flourish 
of a comma, used in the monumental inscriptions. 2. That the 
palm was the symbol of victory among the Pagans. 3. That 
among the Christians it served as the emblem, not only of 
martyrdom, but in general of a joyful resurrection. 

■*o As a specimen of these legends, we may be satisfied with 
10,000 Christian soldiers crucified in one day, either by Trajan 
or Hadrian, on Mount Ararat. 


testimony of his friend Dionysius, who, in the immense 
city of Alexandria, and under the rigorous persecution 
of Decius, reckons only ten men and seven women 
who suffered for the profession of the Christian name. 
During the same period of persecution, the zealous, 
the eloquent, the ambitious Cyprian, governed the 
church, not only of Carthage, but even of Africa. He 
possessed every quality which could engage the rever- 
ence of the faithful or provoke the suspicions and 
resentment of the Pagan magistrates. His character 
as well as his station seemed to mark out that holy 
prelate as the most distinguished object of envy and 
of danger. The experience, however, of the life of 
Cyprian is sufficient to prove that our fancy has ex- 
aggerated the perilous situation of a Christian bishop ; 
and that the dangers to which he was exposed were 
less imminent than those which temporal ambition is 
always prepared to encounter in the pursuit of honours. 
Four Roman emperors, with their families, their favour- 
ites, and their adherents, perished by the sword in the 
space of ten years, during which the bishop of Carthage 
guided, by his authority and eloquence, the counsels 
of the African church. It was only in the third year 
of his administration that he had reason, during a few 
months, to apprehend the severe edicts of Decius, the 
vigilance of the magistrate, and the clamours of the 
multitude, who loudly demanded that Cyprian, the 
leader of the Christians, should be thrown to the lions. 
Pi-udence suggested the necessity of a temporary re- 
treat, and the voice of prudence was obeyed. He 
withdrew himself into an obscure solitude, from whence 
he could maintain a constant correspondence with the 
clergy and people of Carthage ; and, concealing himself 
till the tempest was past, he preserved his life, without 
relinquishing either his power or his reputation. His 
extreme caution did not, however, escape- the censure 
of the more rigid Christians who lamented, or the 
reproaches of his personal enemies who insulted, a 
conduct which they considered as a pusillanimous and 
criminal desertion of the most sacred duty. The pro- 


priety of reserving himself for the future exigencies of 
the church, the example of several holy bishops/^ and 
the divine admonitions which, as he declares himself, 
he frequently received in visions and ecstacies, were 
the reasons alleged in his justification. But his best 
apology may be found in the cheerful resolution with 
which, about eight years afterwards, he suffered death 
in the cause of religion. The authentic history of his 
martyrdom has been recorded with unusual candour 
and impartiality. A short abstract, therefore, of its 
most important circumstances will convey the clearest 
information of the spirit, and of the forms, of the 
Roman persecutions.^ 

When Valerian was consul for the third, and Gal- 
lienus for the fourth, time, Paternus, proconsul of 
Africa, summoned Cyprian to appear in his private 
council-chamber. He there acquainted him with the 
Imperial mandate which he had just received,*^ that 
those who had abandoned the Roman religion should 
immediately return to the practice of the ceremonies 
of their ancestors. Cyprian replied without hesitation 
that he was a Christian and a bishop, devoted to the 
worship of the true and only Deity, to whom he offered 
up his daily supplications for the safety and prosperity 
of the two emperors, his lawful sovereigns. With 
modest confidence he pleaded the privilege of a citizen, 
in refusing to give any answer to some invidious and, 

47 In particular those of Dionysius of Alexandria and Gregory 
Thaumaturgus of Neo-Cassarea. 

43 We have an original life of Cyprian by the deacon Pontius, 
the companion of his exile, and the spectator of his death ; and 
we likewise possess the ancient proconsular acts of his martyr- 
dom. These two relations are consistent with each other and 
with probability ; and, what is somewhat remarkable, they are 
both unsullied by any miraculous circumstances. 

49 It should seem that these were circular orders, sent at the 
same time to all the governors. Dionysius (ap. Euseb. 1. vii. 
c. ii) relates the history of his own banishment from Alexandria 
almost in the same manner. But, as he escaped and survived 
the persecution, we must account him either more or less fortu- 
nate than Cyprian. 


indeed, illegal questions which the proconsul had pro- 
posed. A sentence of banishment was pronounced as 
the penalty of Cyprian's disobedience ; and he was 
conducted, without delay, to Curubis, a free and 
maritime city of Zeuei'itana, in a pleasant situation, a 
fertile territory, and at the distance of about forty 
miles from Carthag-e. The exiled bishop enjoyed the 
conveniencies of life and the consciousness of virtue. 
His reputation was diffused over Africa and Italy ; an 
account of his behaviour was published for the edifica- 
tion of the Christian world ; and his solitude was 
frequently interrupted by the letters, the visits, and 
the congratulations of the faithful. On the arrival of 
a new proconsul in tlie province, the fortune of Cyprian 
appeared for some time to wear a still more favour- 
able aspect. He was recalled from banishment ; and, 
thougli not yet permitted to return to Carthage, his 
own gardens in the neighbourhood of the capital Avere 
assigned for the place of his residence.^*^ 

At length, exactly one year^^ after Cyprian was 
first apprehended, Galerius Maximus, proconsul of 
Africa, received the Imperial warrant for the execution 
of the Christian teachers. ITie bishop of Carthage 
was sensible that he should be singled out for one of 
the first victims ; and the frailty of nature tempted 
him to withdraw himself, by a secret flight, from the 
danger and tlie honour of martyrdom ; but, soon re- 
covering that fortitude which his character required, 
he returned to his gardens, and patiently expected the 
ministers of death. Two officers of rank, who were 
intrusted witli that commission, placed Cyprian between 
them in a chariot ; and, as the proconsul was not then 

w Upon his conversion, he had sold those gardens for the 
benefit of the poor. The indulgence of God (most probably the 
liberality of some Christian friend) restored them to Cyprian. 
See Pontius, c. 15. 

61 When Cyprian, a twelvemonth before, was sent into exile, 
be dreamt that he should be put to death the next day. The 
event made it necessary to explain that word as signifying a 
year. Pontius, c. 12. 


at leisure^ they conducted him, not to a prison, hut to 
a private house in Carthage, which helonged to one of 
them. An elegant supper was provided for the enter- 
tainment of the hishop, and his Christian friends were 
permitted for the last time to enjoy his society, whilst 
the streets were filled with a multitude of the faithful, 
anxious and alarmed at the approaching fate of their 
spiritual father. °"^ In the morning he appeared before 
the tribunal of the proconsul, who, after informing 
himself of the name and situation of Cyprian, com- 
manded him to offer sacrifice, and pressed him to reflect 
on the consequences of his disobedience. The refusal 
of Cyprian was firm and decisive ; and the magistrate, 
when he had taken the opinion of his council, pro- 
nounced with some reluctance the sentence of death. 
It was conceived in the following terms : '^That Thascius 
Cyprianus should be immediately beheaded, as the 
enemy of the gods of Rome, and as the chief and ring- 
leader of a criminal association, which he had seduced 
into an impious resistance against the laws of the most 
holy emperors, Valerian and Gallienus." The manner 
of his execution was the mildest and least painful that 
could be inflicted on a person convicted of any capital 
offence : nor was the use of torture admitted to obtain 
from the bishop of Carthage either the recantation of 
his principles or the discovery of his accomplices. 

As soon as the sentence was proclaimed, a general 
cry of '^ We will die with him " arose at dnce among 
the listening multitude of Christians who waited before 
the palace gates. The generous effusions of their zeal 
and affection were neither serviceable to Cyprian nor 
dangerous to themselves. He was led away under a 
guard of tribunes and centurions, without resistance 
and without insult, to the place of his execution, a 

52 Pontius (c. 15) acknowledges that Cyprian, with whom he 
supped, passed the night custodia delicata. The bishop exer- 
cised a last and very proper act of jurisdiction, by directing 
that the younger females who watched in the street should be 
removed from the dangers and temptations of a nocturnal 


spacious and level plain near the city, which was 
already filled with great numbers of spectators. His 
faithful presbyters and deacons were permitted to 
accompany their holy bishop. They assisted him in 
laying aside his upper garment, spread linen on the 
ground to catch the precious relics of his blood, and 
received his orders to bestow five-and-twenty pieces of 
gold on the executioner. The martyr then covered 
his face with his hands, and at one blow his head was 
separated from his body. His corpse remained during 
same hours exposed to the curiosity of the Gentiles ; 
but in the night it was removed, and transported in a 
triumphal procession and with a splendid illumination 
to the burial-place of the Christians. The funeral of 
Cyprian was publicly celebrated without receiving any 
interruption from the Roman magistrates ; and those 
among the faithful who had performed the last offices 
to his person and his memory were secure from the 
danger of inquiry or of punishment. It is remarkable 
that of so great a multitude of bishops in the province 
of Africa Cyprian was the first who was esteemed 
worthy to obtain the crown of martyrdom. 

It was in the choice of Cyprian either to die a martyr 
or to live an apostate, but on that choice depended the 
alternative of honour or infamy. Could we suppose 
that the bishop of Carthage had employed the pro- 
fession of the Christian faith only as the instrument 
of his avai'ice or ambition, it was still incumbent on 
him to support the character which he had assumed ; ^ 
and, if he possessed the smallest degree of manly 
fortitude, rather to expose himself to the most cruel 
tortures than by a single act to exchange the reputa- 
tion of a whole life for the abhorrence of his Christian 
brethren and the contempt of the Gentile world. But, 
if the zeal of Cyprian was supported by the sincere 
conviction of the truth of those doctrines which he 

53 Whatever opinion we may entertain of the character or 
principles of Thomas Becket, we must acknowledge that he 
suffered death with a constancy not unworthy of the primitive 


preached, the crown of martyrdom must have appeared 
to him as an object of desire rather than of terror. 
It is not easy to extract any distinct ideas from the 
vague though eloquent declamations of the Fathers or 
to ascertain the degree of immortal glory and happi- 
ness which they confidently promised to those who 
were so fortunate as to shed their blood in the cause 
of religion."^ They inculcated with becoming diligence 
that the fire of martyrdom supplied every defect and 
expiated every sin ; that, while the souls of ordinary 
Christians were obliged to pass through a slow and 
painful purification, the triumphant sufferers entered 
into the immediate fruition of eternal bliss, where, in 
the society of the patriarchs, the apostles, and the 
prophets, they reigned with Christ, and acted as his 
assessors in the universal judgment of mankind. The 
assurance of a lasting reputation upon earth, a motive 
so congenial to the vanity of human nature, often 
served to animate the courage of the martyrs. The 
honours which Rome or Athens bestowed on those 
citizens who had fallen in the cause of their country 
were cold and unmeaning demonstrations of respect, 
when compared with the ardent gratitude and devotion 
which the primitive church expressed towards the 
victorious champions of the faith. The annual com- 
memoration of their virtues and sufferings was observed 
as a sacred ceremony, and at length terminated in 
religious worship. Among the Christians who had 
publicly confessed their religious principles, those who 
(as it very frequently happened) had been dismissed 
from the tribunal or the prisons of the Pagan magis- 
trates obtained such honours as were justly due to 
their imperfect martyrdom and their generous resolu- 
tion. The most pious females courted the permission 
of imprinting kisses on the fetters which they had 
worn and on the wounds which they had received. 
Their persons were esteemed holy, their decisions were 

54 The learning of Dodwell and the ingenuity of Middleton 
have left scarcely anything to add concerning the merit, the 
honours, and the motives of the martyrs. 


admitted with deference, and they too often abused, 
hy their spiritual pride and licentious manners, the 
pre-eminence which tlieir zeal and intrepidity had 
acquired. ^^ Distinctions like these, whilst they display 
the exalted merit, betray the inconsiderable number, 
of those who suffered and of those who died for the 
profession of Christianity. 

Tlie sober discretion of the present age will more 
readily censure than admire, but can more easily 
admire than imitate, the fervour of the first Christians ; 
who, according to the lively expression of Sulpicius 
Severus, desired martyrdom with more eagerness than 
his own contemporaries solicited a bishopric. The 
epistles which Ignatius composed as he was carried in 
chains through the cities of Asia breathe sentiments 
the most repugnant to the ordinary feelings of human 
nature. He earnestly beseeches the Romans that, 
when he should he exposed in the amphitheatre, they 
would not, by their kind but unseasonable interces- 
sion, deprive him of the crown of glory ; and he 
declares his resolution to provoke and irritate the M-ild 
beasts which might be employed as the instruments of 
his death.^ Some stories are related of the courage 
of martyrs who actually performed what Ignatius had 
intended ; who exasperated the fury of the lions, 
pressed the executioner to hasten his office, cheerfully 
leaped into the fires which were kindled to consume 
them, and discovered a sensation of joy and pleasure 
in the midst of the most exquisite tortures. Several 
examples have been preserved of a zeal impatient of 
those restraints which the emperors had provided for 
the security of the church. Tlie Christians sometimes 
supplied by their voluntary declaration the want of an 
accuser, rudely disturbed the public service of Pagan- 

55 The number of pretended martyrs has been very much 
muhiplied by the custom which was introduced of bestowing 
that honourable name on confessors. 

66 It suited the purpose of Bishop Pearson to justify, by 
a profusion of examples and authorities, the sentiments of 


ism/' and, rushing in crowds round the tribunal of 
the magistrates, called upon them to pronounce and 
to inflict the sentence of the law. The behaviour of 
the Christians was too remarkable to escape the notice 
of the ancient philosophers ; but they seem to have 
considered it with much less admiration than astonish- 
ment. Incapable of conceiving- the motives which 
sometimes transported the fortitude of believers beyond 
the bounds of prudence or reason, they treated such 
an eagerness to die as the strange result of obstinate 
despair, of stupid insensibility, or of superstitious 
frenzy. " Unhappy men ! " exclaimed the proconsul 
Antoninus to the Christians of Asia ; "unhappy men ! 
if you are thus weary of your lives, is it so difficult 
for you to find ropes and precipices.^" ^ He was 
extremely cautious (as it is observed by a learned and 
pious historian) of punishing men who had found no 
accusers but themselves, the Imperial laws not having 
made any provision for so unexpected a case ; con- 
demning, therefore, a few as a warning to their 
brethren, he dismissed the multitude with indignation 
and contempt. Notwithstanding this real or affected 
disdain, the intrepid constancy of the faithful was 
productive of more salutary effects on those minds 
which nature or grace had disposed for the easy recep- 
tion of religious truth. On these melancholy occa- 
sions, there were many among the Gentiles who pitied, 
who admired, and who were converted. The generous 
enthusiasm was communicated from the sufferer to the 
spectators ; and the blood of martyrs, according to a 
well-known observation, became the seed of the church. 

57 The story of Polyeuctes, on which Corneille has founded 
a very beautiful tragedy, is one of the most celebrated, though 
not perhaps the most authentic, instances of this excessive zeal. 
We should observe that the 6oth canon of the council of IlIilDeris 
refuses the title of martyrs to those who exposed themselves to 
death by publicly destroying the idols. 

58 The learned are divided between three persons of the same 
name, who were all proconsuls of Asia. I am inclined to ascribe 
this story to Antoninus Pius, who was afterwards emperor ; and 
who may have governed Asia under the reign of Trajan. 

no ma 


But, although devotion had raised, and eloquence 
continued to inflame, this fever of the mind, it in- 
sensibly gave way to the more natural hopes and fears 
of the human heart, to the love of life, the apprehension 
of pain, and the horror of dissolution. The more 
prudent rulers of the church found themselves obliged 
to restrain the indiscreet ardour of their followers, 
and to distrust a constancy which too often abandoned 
them in the hour' of trial. As the lives of the faithful 
became less mortified and austere, they were every day 
less ambitious of the honours of martyrdom ; and the 
soldiers of Christ, instead of distinguishing themselves 
by voluntary deeds of heroism, frequently deserted 
their post, and fled in confusion before the enemy 
whom it was their duty to resist. There were three 
methods, however, of escaping the flames of persecution, 
which were nor attended with an equal degree of guilt : 
the first, indeed, was generally allowed to be innocent ; 
the second was of a doubtful, or at least of a venial, 
nature ; but the third implied a direct and criminal 
apostacy from the Christian faith. 

L A modern inquisitor would hear with surprise 
that, whenever an information was given to a Roman 
magistrate of any person within his jurisdiction who 
had embraced the sect of the Christians, the charge 
was communicated to the party accused, and that a 
convenient time was allowed him to settle his domestic 
concerns and to prepare an answer to the crime which 
was imputed to him.^^ If he entertained any doubt of 
his own constancy, such a delay afl'orded him the 
opportunity of preserving his life and honour by flight, 
of withdrawing himself into some obscure retirement 
or some distant province, and of patiently expecting 
the return of peace and se<'urity. A measure so 
consonant to reason was soon authorised by the advice 

59 In the second apology of Justin, there is a particular and 
very curious instance of this legal delay. The same indulgence 
was granted to accused Christians in the persecution of Decius ; 
and Cyprian (de Lapsis) expressly mentions the "Dies negan- 
tibus praestitutus." 


and example of the most holy prelates, and seems to 
have been censured by few, except by the Montanists, 
who deviated into heresy by their strict and obstinate 
adherence to the rig-our of ancient disciplined*^ II. 
The provincial g-overnors, whose zeal was less prevalent 
than their avarice, had countenanced the practice of 
selling certificates (or libels as they were called), 
which attested that the persons therein mentioned had 
complied with the laws and sacrificed to the Roman 
deities. By producing these false declarations, the 
opulent and timid Christians were enabled to silence 
the malice of an informer and to reconcile, in some 
measure, their safety with their religion. A slight 
penance atoned for this profane dissimulation. III. In 
every persecution there were great numbers of un- 
worthy Christians who publicly disowned or renounced 
the faith which they had professed ; and who confirmed 
the sincerity of their abjuration by the legal acts of 
burning incense or of offering sacrifices. Some of 
these apostates had yielded on the first menace or 
exhortation of the magistrate ; whilst the patience of 
others had been subdued by the length and repetition 
of tortures. The affrighted countenances of some 
betrayed their inward remorse, while others advanced, 
with confidence and alacrity, to the altars of the gods. 
But the disguise which fear had imposed subsisted no 
longer than the present danger. As soon as the 
severity of the persecution was abated, the doors of the 
churches were assailed by the returning multitude of 
penitents, who detested their idolatrous submission, and 
who solicited, with equal ardour, but with various suc- 
cess, their readmission into the society of Christians. ^^ 

^ Tertullian considers flight from persecution as an imperfect, 
but very criminal apostacy, as an impious attempt to elude the 
will of God, &c. &c. He has written a treatise on this subject, 
which is filled with the wildest fanaticism and the most inco- 
herent declamation. It is, however, somewhat remarkable that 
Tertullian did not suffer martyrdom himself. 

SI It was on this occasion that Cyprian wrote his treatise De 
Lapsis and many of his epistles. The controversy concerning 
the treatment of penitent apostates does not occur among the 


IV. Notwithstanding the general rules established 
for the conviction and punishment of the Christians, 
the fate of those sectaries, in an extensive and arbitrary 
government, must still, in a great measure, have 
depended on their own behaviour, the circumstances 
of the times, and the temper of their supreme as well 
as subordinate rulers. Zeal might sometimes provoke, 
and prudence might sometimes avert or assuage, the 
superstitious fury of the Pagans. A variety of motives 
might dispose the provincial governors either to en- 
force or to relax the execution of the laws ; and of 
these motives the most forcible was their regard not 
only for the public edicts, but for the secret intentions 
of the emperor, a glance from whose eye was sufficient 
to kindle or to extinguish the flames of persecution. As 
often as any occasional severities were exercised in the 
different parts of the empire, the primitive Christians 
lamented and perhaps magnified their own sufferings ; 
but the celebrated number of ten persecutions has been 
determined by the ecclesiastical writers of the fifth 
century, who possessed a more distinct view of the 
prosperous or adverse fortunes of the church, from 
the age of Nero to that of Diocletian. The ingenious 
parallels of the ten plagues of Egypt and of the ten 
horns of the Apocalypse first suggested this calculation 
to their minds ; and in their application of the faith of 
prophecy to the truth of history they were careful to 
select those reigns which were indeed the most hostile 
to the Christian cause. ^^ But these transient persecu- 
tions served only to revive the zeal, and to restore the 
discipline, of the faithful : and the moments of extra- 
ordinary rigour were compensated by much longer 
intervals of peace and security. The indifference of 
some princes and the indulgence of others permitted 

Christians of the preceding century. Shall we ascribe this to 
the superiority of their faith and courage or to our less intimate 
knowledge of their history ? 

62 Sulpicius Severus was the first author of this computation ; 
though he seemed desirous of reserving the tenth and greatest 
persecution for the coming of the Antichrist. 


the Christians to enjoy, thoug-h not perhaps a legal, 
yet an actual and public^, toleration of their religion. 

Tlie apology of Tertullian contains two very ancient, 
very singular, but at the same time very suspicious, 
instances of Imperial clemency ; the edicts published 
by Tiberius and by Marcus Antoninus^ and designed 
not only to protect the innocence of the Christians, 
but even to proclaim those stupendous miracles which 
had attested the truth of their doctrine. The first of 
these examples is attended with some difficulties which 
might perplex the sceptical mind. We are required to 
believe that Pontius Pilate informed the emperor of 
the unjust sentence of death which he had pronounced 
against an innocent, and, as it appeared, a divine, 
person ; and that, without acquiring the merit, he 
exposed himself to the danger, of martyrdom ; that 
Tiberius, who avowed his contempt for all religion, 
immediately conceived tlie design of placing the Jewish 
Messiah among the gods of Rome ; that his servile 
senate ventured to disobey the commands of their 
master ; that Tiberius, instead of resenting their refusal, 
contented himself with protecting the Christians from 
the severity of the laws, many years before such laws 
were enacted, or before the cliurch had assumed any 
distinct name or existence ; and lastly, that the memory 
of this extraordinary transaction was ])reserved in the 
most public and authentic records, which escaped the 
knowledge of the historians of Greece and Rome, and 
were only visible to the eyes of an African Christian, 
who composed his apology one hundred and sixty 
years after the death of Tiberius. The edict of Marcus 
Antoninus is supposed to have been the effect of his 
devotion and gratitude for the miraculous deliverance 
which he had obtained in the Marcomannic war. The 
distress of the legions, the seasonable tempest of rain 
and hail, of thunder and lightning, and the dismay 
and defeat of the barbarians, have been celebrated by 
the eloquence of several Pagan writers. If there were 
any Christians in that army, it was natural that they 
should ascribe some merit to the fervent prayers 


which, in the moment of danger, they had offered up 
for their own and the public safety. But we are stiU 
assured by monuments of brass and marble, by the 
Imperial medals, and by the Antonine column, that 
neither the prince nor the people entertained any 
sense of this signal obligation, since they unanimously 
attribute their deliverance to the providence of Jupiter 
and to the interposition of Mercury. During the whole 
course of his reign, Marcus despised the Christians as 
a philosopher, and punished them as a sovereign. 

By a singular fatality, the hardships which they had 
endured under the government of a virtuous prince 
immediately ceased on the accession of a tyrant, and, 
as none except themselves had experienced the injustice 
of Marcus, so they alone were protected by the lenity 
of Commodus. The celebrated Marcia, the most 
favoured of his concubines, and who at length con- 
trived the murder of her Imperial lover, entertained 
a singular affection for the oppressed church ; and, 
though it was impossible that she could reconcile the 
practice of vice with the precepts of the Gospel, she 
might hope to atone for the frailties of her sex and 
profession, by declaring herself the patroness of the 
Christians. Under the gracious protection of Marcia, 
they passed in safety the thirteen years of a cruel 
tyranny ; and, when the empire was established in 
the house of Severus, they formed a domestic but 
more honourable connection with the new court. The 
emperor was persuaded that, in a dangerous sickness, 
he had derived some benefit, either spiritual or physical, 
from the holy oil with which one of his slaves had 
anointed him. He always treated with peculiar dis- 
tinction several persons of both sexes who had embraced 
the new religion. The nurse as well as the preceptor 
of Caracalla were Christians ; and, if that young prince 
ever betrayed a sentiment of humanity, it was occa- 
sioned by an incident which, however trifling, bore 
some relation to the cause of Christianity. Under the 
reign of Severus, the fury of the populace was checked ; 
the rigour of ancient laws was for some time suspended ; 

211-49 OF THE -ROMAN EMPIRE 127 

and the provincial governors were satisfied with receiv- 
ing an annual present from the churches within their 
jurisdiction, as the price, or as the reward, of their 
moderation,^3 xhe controversy concerning the precise 
time of the celebration of Easter armed the bishops of 
Asia and Italy against each other, and was considered 
as the most important business of this period of leisure 
and tranquillity. Nor was the peace of the church in- 
terrupted till the increasing numbers of proselytes 
seem at length to have attracted the attention, and to 
have alienated the mind, of Severus. AVlth the design 
of restraining the progress of Christianity, he published 
an edict which, though it was designed to affect only 
the new converts, could not be carried into strict exe- 
cution without exposing to danger and punishment the 
most zealous of their teachers and missionaries. In 
this mitigated persecution, we may still discover the 
indulgent spirit of Rome and of Polytheism, which so 
readily admitted every excuse in favour of those who 
practised the religious ceremonies of their fathers. 

But the laws which Severus had enacted soon expired 
with the authority of that emperor ; and the Christians, 
after this accidental tempest, enjoyed a calm of thirty- 
eight years. Till this period they had usually held 
their assemblies in private houses and sequestered 
places. They were now permitted to erect and conse- 
crate convenient edifices for the purpose of religious 
worship ; ^^ to purchase lands, even at Rome itself, for 
the use of the community ; and to conduct the elections 
of their ecclesiastical ministers in so public, but at the 
same time in so exemplary, a manner as to deserve 

63 Terlullian de Fuga, c, 13. The present was made during 
the feast of the Saturnalia ; and it is a matter of serious concern 
to Tertullian that the faithful should be confounded with the 
most infamous professions which purchased the connivance of 
the government. 

^ The antiquity of Christian churches is discussed by Tille- 
mont (M^moires Eccl^siastiques, torn. iii. part ii. pp. 68-72), and 
by Mr. Moyle (vol. i. pp. 378-398). The former refers the first 
construction of them to the peace of Alexander Severus ; the 
latter to the peace of Gallienus. 


the respectful attention of the Gentiles.^ This long 
repose of the church was accompanied with dignity. 
The reigns of those princes who derived their ex- 
traction from the Asiatic provinces proved the most 
favourable to the Christians ; the eminent persons of 
the sect^ instead of being reduced to implore the pro- 
tection of a slave or concubine, were admitted into the 
palace in the honourable characters of priests and 
philosophers ; and their mysterious doctrines, which 
were already diffused among the people, insensibly 
attracted the curiosity of their sovereign. When the 
empress Mammaea passed through Antioch, she ex- 
})ressed a desire of conversing with the celebrated 
Origen, the fame of whose piety and learning was 
spread over the East. Origen obeyed so flattering an 
invitation, and, though he could not expect to succeed 
in the conversion of an artful and ambitious woman, 
she listened with pleasure to his eloquent exhortations, 
and honourably dismissed him to his retirement in 
Palestine.^ The sentiments of Mammaea were adopted 
by her son Alexander, and the philosophic devotion 
of that emperor was marked by a singular but in- 
judicious regard for the Christian religion. In his 
domestic chapel he placed the statues of Abraham, 
of Orpheus, of Apollonius, and of Christ, as an honour 
justly due to those respectable sages who had instructed 
mankind in the various modes of addressing their 
homage to the supreme and universal deity.^'^ A purer 

*5 The emperor Alexander adopted their method of publicly 
proposing the names of those persons who were candidates for 
ordination. It is true that the honour of this practice is likewise 
attributed to the Jews. 

66 Mammasa was styled a holy and pious woman, both by 
the Christians and the Pagans. From the former, therefore, it 
was impossible that she should deserve that honourable epithet. 

67 His design of building a public temple to Christ (Hist. 
August, p. I2g) and the objection which' was suggested either 
to him or in similar circumstances to Hadrian appear to have 
no other foundation than an improbable report, invented by 
the Christians and credulously adopted by an historian of the 
asre of Constantine. 


faith, as well as worship, was openly professed and 
practised among his household. Bishops, perhaps 
for the first time, were seen at court ; and after the 
death of Alexander, when the inhuman Maximin dis- 
charged his fury on the favourites and servants of his 
unfortunate henefactor, a great number of Christians, 
of every rank, and of both sexes, were involved in the 
promiscuous massacre, which, on their account, has 
improperly received the name of Persecution.^ 

Notwithstanding the cruel disposition of Maximin, 
the eifects of his resentment against the Christians 
were of a very local and temporary nature, and the 
pious Origen, who had been proscribed as a devoted 
victim, was still reserved to convey the truths of the 
Gospel to the ear of monarchs. He addressed several 
edifying letters to the emperor Philip, to his wife, and 
to his mother ; and, as soon as that prince, who was 
born in the neighbourhood of Palestine, had usurped 
the Imperial sceptre, the Christians acquired a friend 
and a protector. The public and even partial favour 
of Philip towards the sectaries of the new religion, and 
his constant reverence for the ministers of the church, 
irave some colour to the suspicion, which prevailed in 
liis own times, that the emperor himself was become a 
convert to the faith ; ^^ and afforded some grounds for 
a fable which was afterwards invented, that he had 

^3 It may be presumed that the success of the Christians had 
exasperated the increasing bigotry of the Pagans. Dion Cassius, 
who composed his history under the former reign, had most 
probably intended for the use of his master those counsels of 
persecution which he ascribes to a better age and to the favourite 
of Augustus. 

69 The mention of those princes who were publicly supposed 
to be Christians, as we find it in an epistle of Dionysius of 
Alexandria (ap. Euseb. 1. vii. c. lo), evidently alludes to Philip 
and his family, and forms a contemporary evidence that such 
a report had prevailed ; but the Egyptian bishop, who lived at 
an humble distance from the court of Rome, expresses himself 
with a becoming diffidence concerning tiie truth of the fact. The 
epistles of Origen (which were extant in the time of Eusebius, 
see 1. vi. c. 36) would most probably decide this curious, rather 
than important, question. 

VOL. U. E 


been purified by confession and penance from the 
guilt contracted by the murder of his innocent pre- 
decessor. The fall of Philip introduced, with the 
chanofe of masters, a new system of government, so 
oppressive to the Christians that their former condition, 
ever since the time of Domitiau, was represented as a 
state of perfect freedom and security, if compared with 
the rigorous treatment which they experienced under 
the short reign of Decius. The virtues of that prince 
will scarcely allow us to expect that he was actuated 
by a mean resentment against the favourites of his 
predecessor, and it is more reasonable to believe that, 
in the prosecution of his general design to restore the 
purity of Roman manners, he was desirous of delivering 
the empire from what he condemned as a recent and 
criminal superstition. The bishops of the most con- 
siderable cities were removed by exile or death ; the 
vigilance of the magistrates prevented the clergy of 
Rome during sixteen mouths from proceeding to a 
new election ; and it was the opinion of the Christians 
that the emperor would more patiently endure a com- 
petitor for the purple than a bishop in the capital."*^ 
Were it possible to suppose that the penetration of 
Decius had discovered pride under the disguise of 
humility, or that he could foresee the temporal dominion 
which might insensibly arise from the claims of spiritual 
authority, we might be less surprised that he should 
consider the successors of St. Peter as the most formid- 
able rivals to those of Augustus. 

The administration of Valerian was distinguished by 
a levity and inconstancy, ill-suited to the gravity of 
the Roman Censor. In the first part of his reign, he 
surpassed in clemency those princes who had been 
suspected of an attachment to the Christian faith. In 
the last three years and a half, listening to the insinu- 
ations of a minis-ter addicted to the superstitions of 

70 The see of Rome remained vacant from the martyrdom of 
Fabianus, the 20th of January, A.D. 250, till the election of 
Cornelius, the 4th of June, A.D. 251. Decius had probably left. 
Rome, since he was killed before the end of that year. 


Egypt, he adopted the maxims, and imitated the 
severity, of his predecessor Decius. The accession of 
Gallienus, which increased the calamities of the empire, 
restored peace to the church ; and the Christians 
obtained the free exercise of their religion, by an edict 
addressed to the bishops and conceived in such terms 
as seemed to acknowledge their office and public 
character. The ancient laws, without being formally 
repealed, were suffered to sink into oblivion ; and 
(excepting only some hostile intentions which are 
attributed to the emperor Aurelian) the disciples of 
Christ passed above forty years in a state of prosperity, 
far more dangerous to their virtue than the severest 
trials of persecution. 

The story of Paul of Samosata, who filled the metro- 
politan see of Antioch, while the East was in the hands 
of Odenathus and Zenobia, may serve to illustrate the 
condition and character of the times. The wealth of 
that prelate was a sufficient evidence of his guilt, since 
it was neither derived from the inheritance of his 
fathers nor acquired by the arts of honest industry. 
But Paul considered the service of the church as a very 
lucrative profession."^ His ecclesiastical jurisdiction 
was venal and rapacious ; he extorted frequent contri- 
butions from the most opulent of the faithful, and 
converted to his own use a considerable part of the 
public revenue. By his pride and luxury the Christian 
religion was rendered odious in the eyes of the Gentiles. 
His council chamber and his throne, the splendour 
with which he appeared in public, the suppliant crowd 
who solicited his attention, the multitude of letters 
and petitions to which he dictated his answers, and 
the perpetual hurry of business in which he was in- 

^ Paul was better pleased with the title of Ducenarius, than 
with that of bishop. The Ducenarius was an Imperial pro- 
curator, so called from his salary of two hundred Sestertia, or 
_^i6oo a year. Some critics suppose that the bishop of Antioch 
had actually obtained such an office from Zenobia, while others 
consider it only as a figurative expression of his pomp and 


volved, were circumstances much better suited to the 
state of a civil magistrate "^'^ than to the humility of a 
primitive bishop. AFhen he harangued his people 
from the pulpit, Paul affected the figurative style and 
the theatrical gestures of an Asiatic sophist, while the 
cathedral resounded with the loudest and most extrava- 
gant acclamations in the praise of his divine eloquence. 
Against those who resisted his power, or refused to 
flatter his vanity, the prelate of Antioch was arrogant, 
rigid, and inexorable ; but he relaxed the discipline, 
and lavished the treasures, of the church on his de- 
pendent clergy, who were permitted to imitate their 
master in the gratification of every sensual appetite. 
For Paul indulged himself very freely in the pleasures 
of the table, and he had received into the episcopal 
palace two young and beautiful women, as the constant 
companions of his leisure moments.''^ 

Notwithstanding these scandalous vices, if Paul of 
Samosata had preserved the purity of the orthodox 
faith, his reign over the capital of Syria would have 
ended only with his life ; and, had a seasonable perse- 
cution intervened, an effort of courage might perhaps 
have placed him in the rank of saints and martyrs. 
Some nice and subtle errors, which he imprudently 
adopted and obstinately maintained, concerning the 
doctrine of the Trinity, excited the zeal and indigna- 
tion of the eastern churches.*"* From Egypt to the 
Euxine sea, the bishops were in arms and in motion. 

'2 Simony was not unknown in those times ; and the clergy 
sometimes bought what they intended to sell. It appears that 
the bishopric of Carthage was purchased by a wealthy matron, 
named Lucilla, for her servant Majorinus. The price was 400 
Folles. Every Follis contained 125 pieces of silver, and the 
whole sum may be computed at about ^2400. 

"3 If vi'e are desirous of extenuating the vices of Paul, we 
must suspect the assembled bishops of the East of publishing 
the most malicious calumnies in circular epistles addressed to 
all the churches of the empire. 

7-1 His heresy (like those of Noetus and Sabellius, in the same 
century) tended to confound the mysterious distinction of the 
divine persons. 


Several councils were held, confutations were pub- 
lished, excommunications were pronounced, ambiguous 
explanations were by turns accepted and refused, 
treaties were concluded and violated, and, at length, 
Paul of Samosata was degraded from his episcopal 
character, by the sentence of seventy or eighty bishops, 
who assembled for that purpose at Antioch, and who, 
without consulting the rights of the clergy or people, 
appointed a successor by their own authority. The 
manifest irregularity of this proceeding increased the 
numbers of the discontented faction ; and as Paul, who 
was no stranger to the arts of courts, had insinuated 
himself into the favour of Zenobia, he maintained 
above four years the possession of the episcopal house 
and office. The victory of Aurelian changed the face 
of the East, and the two contending parties, who 
applied to each other the epithets of schism and 
heresy, were either commanded or permitted to plead 
their cause before the tribunal of the conqueror. This 
public and very singular trial affords a convincing 
proof that the existence, the property, the privileges, 
and the internal policy of the Christians were acknow- 
ledged, if not by the laws, at least by the magistrates, 
of the empire. As a Pagan and as a soldier, it could 
scarcely be expected that Aurelian should enter into 
the discussion, whether the sentiments of Paul or 
those of his adversaries were most agreeable to the 
true standard of the orthodox faith. His determina- 
tion, however, was founded on the general principles 
of equity and reason. He considered the bishops of 
Italy as the most impartial and respectable judges 
among the Christians, and, as soon as he was informed 
that they had unanimously approved the sentence of 
the council, he acquiesced in their opinion, and im- 
mediately gave orders that Paul should be compelled 
to relinquish the temporal possessions belonging to an 
office of which, in the judgment of his brethren, he 
had been regularly deprived. But, while we applaud 
the justice, we should not overlook the policy, of 
Aurelian ; who was desirous of restoring and cement- 


ing the dependence of the provinces on the capital 
by every means which could bind the interest or pre- 
judices of any part of his subjects. 

Amidst the frequent revolutions of the empire^ the 
Christians still flourished in peace and prosperity ; 
and, notwithstanding a celebrated aera of martyrs has 
been deduced from the accession of Diocletian,"^ the 
new system of policy, introduced and maintained by 
the wisdom of that prince, continued, during more 
than eighteen years, to breathe the mildest and most 
liberal spirit of religious toleration. The mind of Dio- 
cletian himself was less adapted indeed to speculative in- 
quiries than to the active labours of war and government. 
His prudence rendered him averse to any great innova- 
tion, and, though his temper was not very susceptible 
of zeal or enthusiasm, he al^vays maintained an habitual 
regard for the ancient deities of the empire. But the 
leisure of the two empresses, of his wife Prisca and of 
Valeria his daughter, permitted them to listen with 
more attention and respect to the truths of Christianity, 
which in every age has acknowledged its important 
obligations to female devotion. Tlie principal eunuchs, 
Lucian and Dorotheus, Gorgonius and Andrew, who 
attended the person, possessed the favour, and governed 
the household of Diocletian, protected by their power- 
ful influence the faith which they had embraced. Their 
example was imitated by many of the most considerable 
officers of the palace, who, in their respective stations, 
had the care of the Imperial ornaments, of the robes, 
of the furniture, of the jewels, and even of the private 
treasury ; and, though it might sometimes be incumbent 
on them to accompany the emperor when he sacrificed 
in the temple, they enjoyed, with their wives, their 
children, and their slaves, the free exercise of the 
Christian religion. Diocletian and his colleagues 
frequently conferred the most important oflices on 

75 The aera of Martyrs, which is still in use among the 
Copts and the Abyssinians, must be reckoned from the 29th 
of August, A.D, 284; as the beginning of the Egyptian year 
was nineteen days earlier than the real accession of Diocletian. 


those persons who avowed their abhorrence for the 
worship of the gods^ but who had displayed abilities 
proper for the service of the state. The bishops held 
an honourable rank in their respective provinces^ and 
were treated with distinction and respect, not only by 
the people, but by the magistrates themselves. Almost 
in every city, the ancient churches were found insuffi- 
cient to contain the increasing multitude of proselytes ; 
and in their place more stately and capacious edifices 
were erected for the public worship of the faithful. 
(The corruption of manners and principles, so forcibly 
lamented by Eusebius, may be considered, not only 
as a consequence, but as a proof, of the liberty which 
the Christians enjoyed and abused under the reign 
of Diocletian.J[ Prosperity had relaxed the nerves 
of discipline. jJFraud, envy, and malice prevailed in 
every congregation^ The presbyters aspired to the 
episcopal office, ivhich every day became an object 
more worthy of their ambition. Tlie bishops, who 
contended with each other for ecclesiastical pre-emi- 
nence, appeared by their conduct to claim a secular 
and tyrannical power in the church ; and the lively 
faith which still distinguished the Christians from the 
Gentiles was shown much less in their lives than in 
their controversial writings. 

Notwithstanding this seeming security, an attentive 
observer might discern some symptoms that threatened 
the church with a more violent persecution than any 
which she had yet endured. Tlie zeal and rapid pro- 
gress of the Christians awakened the Polytheists from 
their supine indiiference in the cause of those deities 
whom custom and education had taught them to revere. 
The mutual provocations of a religious war, which 
had already continued above two hundred years, ex- 
asperated the animosity of the contending parties. 
The Pagans were incensed at the rashness of a recent 
and obscure sect which presumed to accuse their 
countrymen of error and to devote their ancestors to 
eternal misery. The habits of justifying the popular 
mythology against the invectives of an implacable 


enemy produced in their minds some sentiments of 
faith and reverence for a system which they had been 
accustomed to consider with the most careless levity. 
The supernatural powers assumed by the church in- 
spired at the same time terror and emulation. The 
followers of the established religion intrenched them- 
selves behind a similar fortification of prodigies ; in- 
vented new modes of sacrifice, of expiation, and of 
initiation ; ''^ attempted to revive the credit of their 
expiring oracles ; ''^ and listened with eager credulity 
to every impostor who flattered their prejudices by a 
tale of wonders."^ Both parties seemed to acknowledge 
the truth of those miracles which were claimed by 
their adversaries ; and, while they were contented with 
ascribing them to the arts of magic and to the power 
of daemons, they mutually concurred in restoring and 
establishing the reign of superstition."^ Philosophy, 
her most dangerous enemy, was now converted into 
her most useful ally. The groves of the academy, 
the gardens of Epicurus, and even the portico of the 

7^6 We might quote, among a great number of instances, the 
mysterious worship of Mithras, and the Taurobolia ; the latter 
of which became fashionable in the time of the Antonines (see 
a Dissertation of M. de Boze, in the Mdmoires de I'Acaddmie 
des Inscriptions, torn. ii. p. 443). The romance of Apuleius is 
as full of devotion as of satire. 

■^ The impostor Alexander very strongly recommended the 
oracle of Trophonius at Mallos, and those of Apollo at Claros 
and Miletus. The last of these, whose singular history would 
furnish a very curious episode, was consulted by Diocletian 
before he published his edicts of persecution. 

'^s Besides the ancient stories of Pythagoras and Aristeas, 
the cures performed at the shrine of .^sculapius and the fables 
related of ApoUonius of Tyana were frequently opposed to the 
miracles of Christ ; though I agree with Dr. Lardner that, 
when Philostratus composed the life of ApoUonius, he had no 
sUch intention. 

"5 It is seriously to be lamented that the Christian fathers, 
by acknowledging the supernatural or, as they deem it, the 
infernal part of Paganism, destroy with their own hands the 
great advantage which we might otherwise derive from the 
liberal concessions of our adversaries. 

284-393 OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE 137 

Stoics, were almost deserted, as so many different 
schools of scepticism or impiety ; ^° and many among 
the Romans were desirous that the writing's of Cicero 
should be condemned and suppressed by the authority 
of the senate. ITie prevailing sect of the new 
Platonicians judged it prudent to connect themselves 
with the priests, whom perhaps they despised, against 
the Christians, whom they had reason to fear. These 
fashionable philosophers prosecuted the design of ex- 
tracting allegorical wisdom from the fictions of the 
Greek poets ; instituted mysterious rites of devotion 
for the use of their chosen disciples ; recommended 
the worship of the ancient gods as the emblems or 
ministers of the Supreme Deity, and composed against 
the faith of the Gospel many elaborate treatises,^^ 
which have since been committed to the flames by the 
prudence of orthodox emperors. 

Although the policy of Diocletian and the humanity 
of Constantius inclined them to preserv^e inviolate the 
maxims of toleration, it was soon discovered that their 
two associates Maximian and Galerius entertained the 
most implacable aversion for the name and religion of 
the Christians. The minds of those princes had never 
been enlightened by science ; education had never 
softened their temper. Tliey owed their greatness to 
their swords, and in their most elevated fortune they 
still retained their superstitious prejudices of soldiers 
and peasants. In the general administration of the 
provinces they obeyed the laws which their benefactor 
had established ; but they frequently found occasions 
of exercising within their camp and palaces a secret 

30 Julian expresses a pious joy that the providence of the 
gods had extinguished the impious sects, and for the most 
part destroyed the books of the Pyrrhonians and Epicureans, 
which had been very numerous, since Epicurus himself com- 
posed no less than 300 volumes, 

SI Lactantius (Divin, Institut. 1. v. c. 2, 3) gives a very clear 
and spirited account of two of these philosophic adversaries of 
the faith. The large treatise of Porphyry against the Christians 
consisted of thirty books, and was composed in Sicily about 
the year 270. 

VOL. II. B 2 


persecution/^ for which the imprudent zeal of the 
Christians sometimes offered the most specious pre- 
tences. A sentence of death was executed upon 
Maximilianus, an African youth, who had been pro- 
duced by his own father before the magistrate as a 
sufficient and legal recruit^butwho obstinately persisted 
in declaring- that his conscience would not permit him 
to embrace the profession of a soldier.^^ It could 
scarcely be expected that any government should suffer 
the action of Marcellus the centurion to pass with 
impunity. On the day of a public festival, that officer 
threw away his belt, his arms, and the ensigns of his 
office, and exclaimed with a loud voice that he would 
obey none but Jesus Christ the eternal King, and that he 
renounced for ever the use of carnal weapons and the 
service of an idolatrous master. The soldiers, as soon 
as they recovered from their astonishment, secured 
the person of Marcellus. He was examined in the 
city of Tingi by the president of that part of Mauritania ; 
and, as he was convicted by his own confession, he 
was condemned and beheaded for the crime of desertion. 
Examples of such a nature savour much less of religious 
persecution than of martial or even civil law : but they 
served to alienate the mind of the emperors, to justify 
the severity of Galerius, who dismissed a great number 
of Christian officers from their employments, and to 

82 Eusebius, 1. viii. c. 4. c. 17. He limits the number of 
military martyrs by a remarkable expression (cnrav^wj tovtuu 
eh irov Kal Sevrepos), of which neither his Latin nor French 
translations have rendered the energy. Notwithstanding the 
authority of Eusebius, and the silence of Lactantius, Ambrose, 
Sulpicius, Orosius, &c. it has been long believed that the 
Theb^an legion, consisting of 6000 Christians, suffered martyr- 
dom, by the order of Maximian, in the valley of the Pennine 
Alps. The story was first published about the middle of the 
fifth century by Eucherius, bishop of Lyons, who received it 
from certain persons, who received it from Isaac, bishop of 
Geneva, who is said to have received it from Theodore, bishop 
of Octodurum. The abbey of St. Maurice still subsists, a rich 
monument of the credulity of Sigismund, king of Burgundy. 

83 The accounts of his martyrdom and of that of Marcellus 
bear every mark of truth and authenticity. 


authorise the opinion that a sect of enthusiasts which 
avowed principles so repug-nant to the public safety- 
must either remain useless, or would soon become 
dangerous, subjects of the empire. 

After the success of the Persian war had raised the 
hopes and the reputation of Galerius, he passed a winter 
with Diocletian in the palace of Nicomedia ; and the 
fate of Christianity became the object of their secret 
consultations.^'* The experienced emperor was still 
inclined to pursue measures of lenity ; and, though he 
readily consented to exclude the Christians from hold- 
ing any employments in the household or the army, 
lie urged in the strongest terms the danger as well as 
cruelty of shedding the blood of those deluded fanatics. 
Galerius at length extorted from him the permission 
of summoning a council, composed of a few persons 
the most distinguished in the civil and military depart- 
ments of the state. The important question was agi- 
tated in their presence, and those ambitious courtiers 
easily discerned that it was incumbent on them to 
second, by their eloquence, the importunate violence 
of the Caesar. It may be presumed that they insisted 
on every topic which might interest the pride, the 
piety, or the fears, of their sovereign in the destruc- 
tion of Christianity. Perhaps they represented that 
the glorious work of the deliverance of the empire was 
left imperfect, as long as an independent people was 
permitted to subsist and multiply in the heart of the 
provinces. The Christians (it might speciously be 
alleged), renouncing the gods and the institutions of 
Rome, had constituted a distinct republic, whicli might 
yet be suppressed before it had acquired any military 
force ; but which was already governed by its own 
laws and magistrates, was possessed of a public treasure, 
and was intimately connected in all its parts by the 
frequent assemblies of the bishops, to whose decrees 

84 Lactantius (or whoever was the author of this little treatise) 
was, at that time, an inhabitant of Nicomedia ; but it seems 
difficult to conceive how he could acquire so accurate a know- 
ledge of what passed in the Imperial cabinet. 


their numerous and opulent congregations yielded an 
implicit obedience. Arguments like these may seem 
to have determined the reluctant mind of Diocletian 
to embrace a new system of persecution : but^ though 
we may suspect, it is not in our power to relate, the 
secret intrigues of the palace, the private views and 
resentments, the jealousy of women or eunuchs, and 
all those trifling but decisive causes which so often 
influence the fate of empires and the councils of the 
wisest monarchs.®^ 

The pleasure of the emperors was at length signified 
to the Christians, who, during the course of this 
melancholy winter, had expected, with anxiety, the 
result of so many secret consultations. Tlie twenty- 
third of February, which coincided with the Roman 
festival of the Terminalia, was appointed (whether 
from accident or design) to set bounds to the progress 
of Christianity. At the earliest dawn of day, the 
Praetorian praefect,^^ accompanied by several generals, 
tribunes, and officers of the revenue, repaired to the 
principal church of Nicomedia, which was situated on 
an eminence in the most populous and beautiful part 
of the city. The doors was instantly broken open ; 
they rushed into the sanctuary ; and, as they searched 
in vain for some visible object of worship, they were 
obliged to content themselves with committing to the 
flames the volumes of holy scripture. The ministers 
of Diocletian were followed by a numerous body of 
guards and pioneers, who marched in order of battle, 
and were provided with all the instruments used in 
the destruction of fortified cities. By their incessant 

85 The only circumstance which we can discover is the devo- 
tion and jealousy of the mother of Galerius. She is described 
by Lactantius as Deorum montium cultrix ; mulier admodum 
superstitiosa. She had a great influence over her son, and was 
offended by the disregard of some of her Christian servants. 

8« In our only MS. of Lactantius, we read profectus ; but 
reason and the authority of all the critics allow us, instead of 
that word, which destroys the sense of the passage, to substitute 


labour, a sacred edifice, which towered above the Im- 
perial palace, and had long excited the indignation 
and envy of the Gentiles, was in a few hours levelled 
with the ground. 

The next day the general edict of persecution was 
published ; and, though Diocletian, still averse to 
the effusion of blood, had moderated the fury of 
Galerius, who proposed that every one refusing to offer 
sacrifice should immediately be burnt alive, the penalties 
inflicted on the osbtinacy of the Christians might be 
deemed sufficiently rigorous and effectual. It was 
enacted that their churches, in all the provinces of 
the empire, should be demolished to their foundations ; 
and the punishment of death was denounced against 
all who should presume to hold any secret assemblies 
for the purpose of religious worship. The philosophers, 
who now assumed the unworthy office of directing the 
blind zeal of persecution, had diligently studied the 
nature and genius of the Christian religion ; and, as 
they were not ignorant that the speculative doctrines 
of the faith were supposed to be contained in the 
writings of the prophets, of the evangelists, and of the 
apostles, they most probably suggested the order that 
the bishops and presbyters should deliver all their 
sacred books into the hands of the magistrates ; who 
were commanded, under the severest penalties, to burn 
them in a public and solemn manner. By the same 
edict, the property of the church was at once con- 
fiscated ; and the several parts of which it might con- 
sist were either sold to the highest bidder, united 
to the Imperial domain, bestowed on the cities and 
corporations, or granted to the solicitations of rapacious 
courtiers. After taking such effectual measures to 
abolish the worship, and to dissolve the government 
of the Christians, it was thought necessary to subject 
to the most intolerable hardships the condition of 
those perverse individuals who should still reject the 
religion of Nature, of Rome, and of their ancestors. 
Persons of a liberal birth were declared incapable of 
holding any honours or employments ; slaves were 


for ever deprived of the hopes of freedom, and the 
whole body of the people were put out of the protec- 
tion of the law. The judges were authorised to hear 
and to determine every action that was brought against 
a Christian. But the Christians were not permitted to 
complain of any injury which they themselves had 
suffered ; and thus those unfortunate sectaries were 
exposed to the severity, while they were excluded from 
the benefits, of public justice. This new species of 
martyrdom, so painful and lingering, so obscure and 
ignominious, was, perhaps, the most proper to weary 
the constancy of the faithful ; nor can it be doubted 
that the passions and interest of mankind were disposed 
on this occasion to second the designs of the emperors. 
But the policy of a well-ordered government must 
sometimes have interposed on behalf of the oppressed 
Christians ; nor was it possible for the Roman princes 
entirely to remove the apprehension of punishment, 
or to connive at every act of fraud and violence, with- 
out exposing their own authority and the rest of their 
subjects to the most alarming dangers. ^^ 

This edict was scarcely exhibited to the public view, 
in the most conspicuous place of Nicomedia, before it 
was torn down by the hands of a Christian, who ex- 
pressed, at the same time, by the bitterest invectives, 
his contempt as well as abhorrence for such impious 
and tyrannical governors. His offence, according to 
the mildest laws, amounted to treason, and deserved 
death. And, if it be true that he was a person of rank 
and education, those circumstances could serve only 
to aggravate his guilt. He was burnt, or rather 
roasted, by a slow fire ; and his executioners, zealous 
to revenge the personal insult which^ had been offered 
to the emperors, exhausted every refinement of cruelty, 
without being able to subdue his patience, or to alter 
the steady and insulting smile which, in his dying 
agonies he still preserved in his countenance. The 

87 Many ages afterwards, Edward I. practised with great 
success the same mode of persecution against the clergy of 


Christians, though they confessed that his conduct 
had not been strictly conformable to the laws of 
prudence, admired the divine fervour of his zeal ; and 
the excessive commendations which they lavished on 
the memory of their hero and martyr contributed to 
fix a deep impression of terror and hatred in the mind 
of Diocletian. 

His fears were soon alarmed by the view of a danger 
from which he very narrowly escaped. Within fifteen 
days the palace of Nicomedia, and even the bed- 
chamber of Diocletian, were twice in riames ; and, 
though both times they were extinguished without any 
material damage, the singular repetition of the fire 
was justly considered as an evident proof that it had 
not been the effect of chance or negligence. Tlie 
suspicion naturally fell on the Christians ; and it was 
suggested, with some degree of probability, that those 
desperate fanatics, provoked by their present sufferings 
and apprehensive of impending calamities, had entered 
into a conspiracy with their faithful brethren, the 
eunuchs of the palace, against the lives of two emperors, 
whom they detested as the irreconcilable enemies of 
the church of God. Jealousy and resentment prevailed 
in every breast, but especially in that of Diocletian. 
A great number of persons, distinguished either by 
the offices which they had filled or by the favour which 
they had enjoyed, were thrown into prison. Every 
mode of torture was put in practice, and the court, 
as well as city, was polluted with many bloody execu- 
tions. But, as it was found impossible to extort 
any discovery of this mysterious transaction, it seems 
incumbent on us either to presume the innocence, or 
to admire the resolution, of the sufferers. A few days 
afterwards Galerius hastily withdrew himself from 
Nicomedia, declaring that, if he delayed his departure 
from that devoted palace, he should fall a sacrifice to 
the rage of the Christians. The ecclesiastical historians, 
from whom alone we derive a partial and imperfect 
knowledge of this persecution, are at a loss how to 
account for the fears and dangers of the emperors. 


Two of these writers, a Prince and a Rhetorician, 
were eye-witnesses of the fire of Nicomedia. The one 
ascribes it to lightning and the divine wrath ; the 
other affirms that it was kindled by the malice of 
Galerius himself. 

As the edict against the Christians was designed for 
a general law of the whole empire, and as Diocletian 
and Galerius, though they might not wait for the 
consent, were assured of the concurrence, of the 
western princes, it would appear more consonant to 
our ideas of policy that the governors of all the pro- 
vinces should have received secret instructions to 
publish, on one and the same day, this declaration of 
war within their respective departments. It was at 
least to be expected that the convenience of the public 
highways and established posts would have enabled 
the emperors to transmit their orders with the utmost 
despatch from the palace of Nicomedia to the extremities 
of the Roman world ; and that they would not have 
sufi'ered fifty days to elapse before the edict was 
published in Syria, and near four months before it 
was signified to the cities of Africa. This delay 
may perhaps be imputed to the cautious temper of 
Diocletian, who had yielded a reluctant consent to the 
measures of persecution, and who was desirous of 
trying the experiment under his more immediate eye, 
before he gave why to the disorders and discontent 
which it must inevitablj' occasion in the distant pro- 
vinces. At first, indeed, the magistrates were restrained 
from the efiusion of blood ; but the use of every other 
severity was permitted and even recommended to their 
zeal ; nor could the Christians, though they cheerfully 
resigned the ornaments of their churches, resolve to 
interrupt their religious assemblies or to deliver their 
sacred books to the flames. The pious obstinacy of 
Felix, an African bishop, appears to have embarrassed 
the subordinate ministers of the government. The 
curator of his city sent him in chains to the proconsul. 
The proconsul transmitted him to the Praetorian pre- 
fect of Italy ; and Felix, who disdained even to give 


an evasive answer, was at length beheaded at Venusia, 
in Lucania, a place on which the birth of Horace has 
conferred fame. This precedent, and perhaps some 
Imperial rescript, which was issued in consequence of 
it, appeared to authorise the g'overnors of provinces in 
punishing wdth death the refusal of the Christians to 
deliver up their sacred books. There were undoubtedly 
many persons who embraced this opportunity of ob- 
taining the crown of martyrdom ; but there were like- 
wise too many who purchased an ignominious life by 
discovering and betraying the holy scripture into the 
hands of infidels. A great number even of bishops 
and presbyters acquired, by this criminal compliance, 
the opprobrious epithet of Traditors ; and their offence 
was productive of much present scandal, and of much 
future discord, in tlie African church. 

The copies, as well as the versions, of scripture were 
already so multiplied in the empire that the most 
severe inquisition could no longer be attended with 
any fatal consequences ; and even the sacrifice of those 
volumes which, in every congregation, were preserved 
for public use required the consent of some treacherous 
and unworthy Christians. But the ruin of the churches 
was easily effected by the authority of the government 
and by the labour of the Pagans. In some provinces, 
however, the magistrates contented themselves with 
shutting up the places of religious worship. In others, 
they more literally complied with the tenns of the 
edict ; and, after taking away the doors, the benches, 
and the pulpit, which they burnt, as it were in a funeral 
pile, they completely demolished the remainder of the 
edifice. ^^ It is perhaps to this melancholy occasion 

88 The ancient monuments, published at the end of Optatus, 
p. 261, &c. describe, in a very circumstantial manner, the pro- 
ceedings of the governors in the destruction of churches. They 
made a minute inventory of the plate, &c. which they found in 
them. That of the Church of Cirta, in Numidia, is still extant. 
It consisted of two cnalices of gold, and six of silver ; six urns, 
one kettle, seven lamps, all likewise of silver ; besides a large 
quantity of brass utensils, and wearing apparel. 


that we should apply a very remarkable story^ which 
is related with so many circumstances of variety and 
improbability that it serves rather to excite than to 
satisfy our curiosity. In a small town in Phryj^a, of 
whose name as well as situation we are left ignorant, 
it should seem that the magistrates and the body of 
the people had embraced the Christian faith ; and, as 
some resistance might be apprehended to the execution 
of the edict, the governor of the province was supported 
by a numerous detachment of legionaries. On their 
approach the citizens threw themselves into the church, 
with the resolution either of defending by arms that 
sacred edifice or of perishing in its ruins. They in- 
dignantly rejected the notice and permission which 
was given them to retire, till the soldiers, provoked 
by their obstinate refusal, set fire to the building on 
ail sides, and consumed, by this extraordinary kind of 
martyrdom, a great number of Phrygians, with their 
wives and children.^^ 

Some slight disturbances, though they were sup- 
pressed almost as soon as excited, in Syria and the 
frontiers of Armenia, afforded the enemies of the 
church a very plausible occasion to insinuate that 
those troubles had been secretly fomented by the 
intrigues of the bishops, who had already forgotten 
their ostentatious professions of passive and unlimited 
obedience. The resentment, or the fears, of Diocletian 
at length transported him beyond the bounds of 
moderation which he had hitherto preserved, and he 
declared, in a series of cruel edicts, his intention of 
abolishing the Christian name. By the first of these 
edicts, the governors of the provinces were directed to 

89 Lactantius (Institut. Divin. v. ii) confines the calamity to 
the conve?iiiculum, with its congregation. Eusebius (viii. ii) 
extends it to a whole city, and introduces something very like a 
regular siege. His ancient Latin translator, Rufinus, adds the 
irnportant circumstance of the permission given to the inhabi- 
tants of retiring from thence. As Phrygia reached to the 
confines of Isauria, it is possible that the restless temper of 
those independent Barbarians may have contributed to this 


apprehend all persons of the ecclesiastical order ; and 
the prisons, destined for the vilest criminals, were 
soon filled with a multitude of bishops, presbyters, 
deacons, readers, and exorcists. By a second edict, 
the magistrates were commanded to employ every 
method of severity which might reclaim them from 
their odious superstition and oblige them to return to 
the established worship of the gods. This rigorous 
order was extended by a subsequent edict to the whole 
body of Christians, who were exposed to a violent 
and general persecution. Instead of those salutary 
restraints, which had required the direct and solemn 
testimony of an accuser, it became the duty as well 
as the interest of the Imperial officers to discover, to 
pursue, and to torment the most obnoxious among the 
faithful. Heavy penalties were denounced against all 
who should presume to save a proscribed sectary from 
the just indignation of the gods, and of the emperors. 
Yet, notwithstanding the severity of this law, the 
virtuous courage of many of the Pagans, in concealing 
their friends or relations, affords an honourable proof 
that the rage of superstition had not extinguished in 
their minds the sentiments of nature and humanity. 

Diocletian had no sooner published his edicts against 
the Christians than, as if he had been desirous of 
committing to other hands the work of persecution, 
he divested himself of the Imperial purple. The char- 
acter and situation of his colleagues and successors 
sometimes urged them to enforce, and sometimes in- 
clined them to suspend the execution of these rigorous 
laws ; nor can we acquire a just and distinct idea of 
this important period of ecclesiastical history, unless 
we separately consider the state of Christianity, in the 
different parts of the empire, during the space of 
ten years, which elapsed between the first edicts of 
Diocletian and the final peace of the church. 

The mild and humane temper of Constantius was 
averse to the oppression of any part of his subjects. 
The principal offices of his palace were exercised by 
Christians. He loved their persons, esteemed their 


fidelity, and entertained not any dislike to their re- 
ligious principles. But, as long- as Constantius re- 
mained in the subordinate station of Csesar, it was 
not in his power openly to reject the edicts of Dio- 
cletian or to disobey the commands of Maximian. His 
authority contributed, however, to alleviate the suffer- 
ings which he pitied and abhorred. He consented, 
with reluctance, to the ruin of the churches ; but he 
ventured to protect the Christians themselves from the 
fury of the populace and from the rigour of the laws. 
The provinces of Gaul (under which we may probably 
include those of Britain) were indebted for the singular 
tranquillity which they enjoyed to the gentle inter- 
position of their sovereign. But Datianus, the president 
or governor of Spain, actuated either by zeal or policy, 
chose rather to execute the public edicts of the emperors 
than to understand the secret intentions of Constantius ; 
and it can scarcely be doubted that his provincial 
administration was stained with the blood of a few 
martyrs.^ The elevation of Constantius to the supreme 
and independent dignity of Augustus gave a free scope 
to the exercise of his virtues, and the shortness of his 
reign did not prevent him from establishing a system 
of toleration, of which he left the precept and the 
example to his sou Constantine. His fortunate son, 
from the first moment of his accession declaring him- 
self the protector of the church, at length deserved 
the appellation of the first emperor who publicly pro- 
fessed and established the Christian religion. The 
motives of his conversion, as they may variously be 
deduced from benevolence, from policy, from con- 

w Datianus is mentioned in Gruter's Inscriptions, as having 
determined the limits between the territories of Pax Julia, and 
those of Ebora, both cities in the southern part of Lusitania. 
If we recollect the neighbourhood of those places to Cape St. 
Vincent, we may suspect that the celebrated deacon and martyr 
of that name has been inaccurately assigned by Prudentius, &c. 
to Saragossa, or Valencia. Some critics are of opinion that the 
department of Constantius, as Caesar, did not include Spain, 
which still continued under the immediate jurisdiction of 


viction^ or from remorse ; and the progress of the 
revolution which^ under his powerful influence, and 
that of his sons, rendered Christianity the reigning 
religion of the Roman empire, will form a very 
interesting and important chapter in the second volume 
of this history. At present it may be sufficient to 
observe that every victory of Constantine was pro- 
ductive of some relief or benefit to the church. 

The provinces of Italy and Africa experienced a 
short but violent persecution. The rigorous edicts of 
Diocletian were strictly and cheerfully executed by his 
associate Maximian, who had long hated the Christians, 
and who delighted in acts of blood and violence. In 
the autumn of the first year of the persecution, the 
two emperors met at Rome to celebrate their triumph ; 
several oppressive laws appear to have issued from 
their secret consultations, and the diligence of the 
magistrates was animated by the presence of their 
sovereigns. After Diocletian had divested himself of 
the purple, Italy and Africa were administered under 
the name of Severus, and were exposed, without 
defence, to the implacable resentment of his master 
Galerius. Among the martyrs of Rome, Adauctus 
deserves the notice of posterity. He was of a noble 
family in Italy, and had raised himself, through the 
successive honours of the palace, to the important office 
of treasurer of the private demesnes. Adauctus is the 
more remarkable for being the only person of rank 
and distinction who appears to have suffered death 
during the whole course of this general persecution. 

The revolt of Maxeutius immediately restored peace 
to the churches of Italy and Africa ; and the same 
tyrant who oppressed every other class of his subjects 
showed himself just, humane, and even partial, towards 
the afflicted Christians. He depended on their gra- 
titude and affection, and very naturally presumed 
that the injuries which they had suffered, and the 
dangers which they still apprehended from his most 
inveterate enemy, would secure the fidelity of a party 
already considerable by their numbers and opulence. 


Even the conduct of Maxentius towards the bishops of 
Rome and Carthage may be considered as the proof 
of his toleration, since it is probable that the most 
orthodox princes would adopt the same measures with 
regard to their established clergy. Marcellus, the 
former of those prelates, had thrown the capital into 
confusion by the severe penance which he imposed on 
a great number of Christians, who, during the late 
persecution, had renounced or dissembled their religion. 
The rage of faction broke out in frequent and violent 
seditions ; the blood of the faithful was shed by each 
other's hands ; and the exile of Marcellus, whose 
prudence seems to have been less eminent than his 
zeal, was found to be the only measure capable of 
restoring peace to the distracted church of Rome. 
The behaviour of Mensurius, bishop of Carthage, 
appears to have been still more reprehensible. A 
deacon of that city had published a libel against the 
emperor. The offender took refuge in the episcopal 
palace ; and, though it was somewhat early to advance 
any claims of ecclesiastical immunities, the bishop re- 
fused to deliver him up to the officers of justice. For 
this treasonable resistance, Mensurius was summoned 
to court, and, instead of receiving a legal sentence of 
death or banishment, he was permitted, after a short 
examination, to return to his diocese. Such was the 
happy condition of the Christian subjects of Maxentius 
that, whenever they were desirous of procuring for 
their own use any bodies of martyrs, they were obliged 
to purchase them from the most distant provinces of 
the East. A story is related of Aglae, a Roman lady, 
descended from a consular family, and possessed of so 
ample an estate that it required the management of 
seventy-three stewards. Among these, Boniface was 
the favourite of his mistress ; and, as Aglae mixed love 
with devotion, it is reported that he was admitted to 
share her bed. Her fortune enabled her to gratify 
the pious desire of obtaining some sacred relics from 
the East. She intrusted Boniface with a considerable 
sum of gold and a large quantity of aromatics ; and 


her lover, attended by twelve horsemen and three 
covered chariots, undertook a remote pilgrimage, as 
far as Tarsus in Cilicia. 

The sanguinary temper of Galerius, the first and 
principal author of the persecution, was formidable to 
those Christians whom their misfortunes had placed 
within the limits of his dominions; and it may fairly 
be presumed that many persons of a middle rank, who 
were not confined by the chains either of wealth or 
of poverty, very frequently deserted their native 
country, and sought a refuge in the milder climate of 
the W^est. As long as he commanded only the armies 
and provinces of lllyricum, he could with difficulty 
either find or make a considerable number of martyrs, 
in a warlike country, which had entertained the 
missionaries of the Gospel with more coldness and 
reluctance than any other part of the empire.^^ But, 
when Galerius had obtained the supreme power and 
the government of the East, he indulged in their 
fullest extent his zeal and cruelty, not only in the 
provinces of Thrace and Asia, which acknowledged 
his immediate jurisdiction, but in those of Syria, 
Palestine, and Eg^^pt, where Maximin gratified his 
own inclination by yielding a rigorous obedience to 
the stern commands of his benefactor.^ The frequent 
disappointments of his ambitious views, the experience 
of six years of persecution, and the salutary reflections 
which a lingering and painful distemper suggested to 
the mind of Galerius, at length convinced him that 
the most violent efi"orts of despotism are insufficient to 
extirpate a whole people or to subdue their religious 

91 During the four first centuries there exist few traces of 
either bishops or bishoprics in the western lllyricum. It has 
been thought probable that the primate of Milan extended his 
jurisdiction over Sirmium, the capital of that great province. 

^ The eighth book of Eusebius, as well as the supplement 
concerning the martyrs of Palestine, principally relate to the 
persecution of Galerius and Maximin. The general lamenta- 
tions with which Lactantius opens the fifth book of his Divine 
Institutions allude to their cruelty. 


prejudices. Desirous of repairing- the mischief that he 
had occasioned, he published in his own name, and in 
those of Licinius and Constantine, a general edict, 
which, after a pompous recital of the Imperial titles, 
proceeded in the following manner : 

*' Among the important cares which have occupied 
our mind for the utility and preservation of the 
empire, it was our intention to correct and re-establish 
all things according to the ancient laws and public 
discipline of the Romans. We were particularly de- 
sirous of reclaiming, into the way of reason and nature, 
the deluded Christians, who had renounced the religion 
and ceremonies instituted by their fathers, and, j)re- 
sumptuously despising the practice of antiquity, had 
invented extravagant laws and opinions, according to 
the dictates of their fancy, and had collected a various 
society from the different provinces of our empire. 
The edicts which we have published to enforce the 
worship of the gods, having exposed many of the 
Christians to danger and distress, many having suffered 
death, and many more, who still persist in their impious 
folly, being left destitute of any public exercise of 
religion, we are disposed to extend to those unhappy 
men the effects of our unwonted clemency. Wq 
permit them, therefore, freely to profess their private 
opinions, and to assemble in their conventicles without 
fear or molestation, provided always that they preserve 
a due respect to the established laws and government. 
By another rescript we shall signify our intentions to 
the judges and magistrates ; and we hope that our 
indulgence will engage the Christians to offer up their 
prayers to the Deity whom they adore, for our safety 
and prosperity, for their own, and for that of the 
republic." It is not usually in the language of edicts 
and manifestoes that we should search for the real 
character or the secret motives of princes ; but, as 
these were the words of a dying emperor, his situation, 
perhaps, may be admitted as a pledge of his sincerity. 

"When Galerius subscribed this edict of toleration, 
he was well assured that Licinius would readily comply 


with the inclinations of his friend and benefactor^ and 
that any measures in favour of the Christians would 
obtain the approbation of Constantine. But the em- 
peror would not venture to insert in the preamble the 
name of Maximin, whose consent was of the greatest 
importance, and who succeeded a few days afterwards 
to the provinces of Asia, In the first six months, how- 
ever, of his new reign, Maximin affected to adopt the 
prudent counsels of his predecessor ; and, though he 
Dever condescended to secure the tranquillity of the 
church by a public edict, Sabinus, his Praetorian 
praefect, addressed a circular letter to all the gover- 
nors and magistrates of the provinces, expatiating on 
the Imperial clemency, acknowledging the invincible 
obstinacy of the Christians, and directing the officers 
of justice to cease their ineffectual prosecutions and to 
connive at the secret assemblies of those enthusiasts. 
In consequence of these orders, great numbers of 
Christians were released from prison or delivered from 
the mines. The confessors, singing hymns of triumph, 
returned into their own countries ; and those who had 
yielded to the violence of the tempest solicited with 
tears of repentance their re-admission into the bosom 
of the church. 

But this treacherous calm was of short duration ; 
nor could the Christians of the East place any con- 
fidence in the character of their sovereign. Cruelty 
and superstition were the ruling passions of the soul 
of Maximin. The former suggested the means, the 
latter pointed out the objects, of persecution. Tlie 
emperor was devoted to the worship of the gods, to 
the study of magic, and to the belief of oracles. The 
prophets or philosophers, whom he revered as the 
favourites of heaven, were frequently raised to the 
government of provinces and admitted into his most 
secret counsels. They easily convinced him that the 
Christians had been indebted for their victories to 
their regular discipline, and that the weakness of 
Polytheism had principally flowed from a want of union 
and subordination among the ministers of religion. A 


system of government was therefore instituted, which 
was evidently copied from the policy of the church. 
In all the great cities of the empire, the temples were 
repaired and beautified by the order of Maximin ; and 
the officiating priests of the various deities were sub- 
jected to the authority of a superior pontiff, destined 
to oppose the bishop and to promote the cause of 
Paganism. These pontiffs acknowledged, in their turn, 
the supreme jurisdiction of the metropolitans or high 
priests of the province, who acted as the immediate 
vicegerents of the emperor himself. A white robe was 
the ensign of their dignity ; and these new prelates 
were carefully selected from the most noble and opulent 
families. By the influence of the magistrates and of 
the sacerdotal order, a great number of dutiful ad- 
dresses were obtained, particularly from the cities of 
Nicomedia, Antioch, and Tyre, which artfully repre- 
sented the well-known intentions of the court as the 
general sense of the people ; solicited the emperor to 
consult the laws of justice rather than the dictates of 
his clemency ; expressed their abhorrence of the Chris- 
tians ; and humbly prayed that those impious sectaries 
might at least be excluded from the limits of their 
respective territories. The answer of Maximin to the 
address which he obtained from the citizens of Tyre 
is still extant. He praises their zeal and devotion 
in terms of the highest satisfaction, descants on the 
obstinate impiety of the Christians, and betrays, by 
the readiness with which he consents to their banish- 
ment, that he considered himself as receiving, rather 
than as conferring, an obligation. The priests, as well 
as the magistrates, were empowered to enforce the 
execution of his edicts, which were engraved on tables 
of brass ; and, though it was recommended to them to 
avoid the effusion of blood, the most cruel and igno- 
minious punishments were inflicted on the refractory 

The Asiatic Christians had everything to dread from 
the severity of a bigoted monarch, who prepared his 
measures of violence with such deliberate policy. But 


a few months had scarcely elapsed before the edicts 
published bv the two western emperors obliged Maximin 
to suspend the prosecution of his designs : the civil 
war, which he so rashly undertook against Licinius, 
employed all his attention ; and the defeat and death 
of iVIaximin soon delivered the church from the last 
and most implacable of her enemies. ^^ 

In this general view of the persecution, which was 
first authorised by the edicts of Diocletian, I have pur- 
posely refrained from describing the particular sufferings 
and deaths of the Christian martyrs. It would have 
been an easy task, from the history of Eusebius, from 
the declamations of Lactantius, and from the most 
ancient acts, to collect a long series of horrid and dis- 
gustful pictures, and to fill many pages with racks and 
scourges, with iron hooks, and red-hot beds, and with 
all the variety of tortures which fire and steel, savage 
beasts and more savage executioners, could indict on 
the human body. These melancholy scenes might be 
enlivened by a crowd of visions and miracles destined 
either to delay the death, to celebrate the triumph, 
or to discover the relics, of those canonised saints 
who suffered for the name of Christ. But I cannot 
determine what I ought to transcribe, till I am satisfied 
how much I ought to believe. The gravest of the 
ecclesiastical historians, Eusebius himself, indirectly 
confesses that he has related whatever might redound 
to the glory, and that he has suppressed all that could 
tend to the disgrace, of religion. ^^ Such an acknow- 

93 A few days before his death, he published a very ample 
edict of toleration, in which he imputes all the severities which 
the Christians suffered to the judges and governors, who had 
misunderstood his intentions. 

9^ Such is ihefair deduction from two remarkable passages 
in Eusebius, 1. viii. c. 2, and de Martyr. Palestin. c. 12. The 
prudence of the historian has exposed his own character to 
censure and suspicion. It is well known that he himself had 
been thrown into prison ; and it was suggested that he had 
purchased his deliverance by some dishonourable compliance. 
The reproach was urged in his lifetime, and even in his.presence, 
at the council of Tvre. 


ledgment will naturally excite a suspicion that a writer 
who has so openly violated one of the fundamental 
laws of history has not paid a very strict reg-ard to the 
observance of the other ; and the suspicion will derive 
additional credit from the character of Eusebiua^ which 
was less tinctured with credulity, and more practised 
in the arts of courts, than that of almost any of his 
contemporaries. On some particular occasions, when 
the magfistrates were exasperated by some personal 
motives of interest or resentment, when the zeal of the 
martyrs urged them to forget the rules of prudence, 
and perhaps of decency, to overturn the altars, to pour 
out imprecations against the emperors, or to strike the 
judge as he sat on his tribunal, it may be presumed 
that every mode of torture, which cruelty could invent 
or constancy could endure, was exhausted on those 
devoted victims.^^ Two circumstances, however, have 
been unwarily mentioned, which insinuate that the 
general treatment of the Christians who had been 
apprehended by the officers of justice was less intoler- 
able than it is usually imagined to have been. 1. The 
confessors who were condemned to work in the mines 
were permitted, by the humanity or the negligence of 
their keepers, to build chapels and freely to profess 
their religion in the midst of those dreary habitations. 
2. The bishops were obliged to check and to censure 
the forward zeal of the Christians, who voluntarily 
threw themselves into the hands of the magistrates. 
Some of these were persons oppressed by poverty and 
debts, who blindly sought to terminate a miserable 
existence by a glorious death. Others were allured by 
the hope that a short confinement would expiate the 
sins of a whole life ; and others, again, were actuated 
by the less honourable motive of deriving a plentiful 
subsistence, and perhaps a considerable profit, from the 
alms which the charity of the faithful bestowed on the 

85 The ancient, and perhaps authentic, account of the suffer- 
ings of Tarachus and his companions is filled with strong 
expressions of resentment and contempt, which could not fail 
of irritating the magistrate. 


prisoners.^ After the church had triumphed over all 
her enemies, the interest as well as vanity of the 
captives prompted them to magnify the merit of their 
respective suffering. A convenient distance of time 
or place gave an ample scope to the progress of fiction ; 
and the frequent instances which might be alleged of 
holy martyrs^ whose wounds had been instantly healed, 
whose strength had been renewed, and whose lost 
members had miraculously been restored, were ex- 
tremely convenient for the purpose of removing every 
difficulty and of silencing every objection. The most 
extravagant legends, as they conduced to the honour of 
the church, were applauded by the credulous multitude, 
countenanced by the power of the clergy, and attested 
by the suspicious evidence of ecclesiastical history. 

The vague descriptions of exile and imprisonment, 
of pain and torture, are so easily exaggerated or 
softened by the pencil of an artful orator that we are 
naturally induced to inquire into a fact of a more 
distinct and stubborn kind ; the number of persons 
who suffered death, in consequence of the edicts 
published by Diocletian, his associates, and his suc- 
cessors. The recent legendaries record whole armies 
and cities, which were at once swept away by the un- 
distinguishing rage of persecution. The more ancient 
writers content themselves with pouring out a liberal 
effusion of loose and tragical invectives, without con- 
descending to ascertain the precise number of those 
persons who were permitted to seal with their blood 
their belief of the i^rospel. From the history of Eusebius, 
it may however be collected that only nine bishops 
were punished with death ; and we are assured, by his 
particular enumeration of the martyrs of Palestine, 
that no more than ninety-two Christians were entitled 
to thathonourableappellation.^" As we are unacquainted 

^ The controversy with the Donatists has reflected some, 
though perhaps a partial, light on the history of the African 

^ Eusebius de Martyr. Palestin. c. 13. He closes his narra- 
tion by assuring us thai these were the martyrdoms inflicted in 


with the degree of episcopal zeal and courage which 
prevailed at that time, it is not in our power to draw 
any useful inferences from the former of these facts ; 
but the latter may serve to justify a very important 
and probable conclusion. According to the distribution 
of Roman provinces, Palestine may be considered as 
the sixteenth part of the Eastern empire ; ^^ and since 
there were some governors who, from a real or affected 
clemency, had preserved their hands unstained with 
the blood of the faithful, it is reasonable to believe that 
the country which had given birth to Christianity pro- 
duced at least the sixteenth part of the martyrs who 
suffered death within the dominions of Galerius and 
Maximin ; the whole might consequently amount to 
about fifteen hundred ; a number which, if it is equally 
divided between the ten years of the persecution, will 
allow an annual consumption of one hundred and fifty 

Palestine during the whole course of the persecution. The fifth 
chapter of his eighth book, which relates to the province of 
Thebais in Egypt, may seem to contradict our moderate compu- 
tation ; but it will only lead us to admire the artful management 
of the historian. Choosing for the scene of the most exquisite 
cruelty the most remote and sequestered country of the Roman 
empire, he relates that in Thebais from ten to one hundred 
persons had frequently suffered martyrdom in the same day. 
But when he proceeds to mention his own journey into Egypt, 
his language insensibly becomes more cautious and moderate. 
Instead of a large, but definite number, he speaks of many 
Christians (TrXf^oys), and most artfully selects two ambiguous 
words {i<TToprj<TaiJ.€v , and virofxeivavTas), which may signify 
either what he had seen or what he had heard ; either the 
expectation or the execution of the punishment. Having thus 
provided a secure evasion, he commits the equivocal passage 
to his readers and translators ; justly conceiving that their piety 
would induce them to prefer the most favourable sense. There 
was perhaps some malice in the remark of Theodorus Meto- 
chita, that all who, like Eusebius, had been conversant with the 
Egyptians delighted in an obscure and intricate style. 

98 When Palestine was divided into three, the praefecture of 
the East contained forty-eight provinces. As the ancient dis- 
tinctions of nations were long since abolished, the Romans dis- 
tributed the provinces according to a general proportion of their 
extent and opulence. 


martyrs. Allotting the same proportion to the pro- 
vinces of Italy, Africa, and perhaps Spain, where, at 
the end of two or three years, the rigour of the'penal 
laws was either suspended or abolished, the multitude 
of Christians in the Roman empire on whom a capital 
punishment was inflicted by a judicial sentence will be 
reduced to somewhat less than two thousand persons. 
Since it cannot be doubted that the Christians were 
more numerous, and their enemies more exasperated, 
in the time of Diocletian, than they had ever been in 
any former persecution, this probable and moderate 
computation may teach us to estimate the number of 
primitive saints and martyrs who sacrificed their lives 
for the important purpose of introducing Christianity 
into the world. 

We shall conclude this chapter by a melancholy 
truth which obtrudes itself on the reluctant mind ; 
that even admitting, without hesitation or inquiry, all 
that history has recorded, or devotion has feigned, on 
the subject of martyrdoms, it must still be acknow- 
ledged that the Christians, in the course of their 
intestine dissensions, have inflicted far greater severities 
on each other than they had experienced from the zeal 
of infidels. During the ages of ignorance which followed 
the subversion of the Roman empire in the West, the 
bishops of the Imperial city extended their dominion 
over the laity as well as clergy of the Latin church. 
The fabric of superstition which they had erected, and 
which might long have defied the feeble efi'orts of 
reason, was at length assaulted by a crowd of daring 
fanatics, who, from the twelfth to the sixteenth century, 
assumed the popular character of reformers. The 
church of Rome defended by violence the empire which 
she had acquired by fraud ; a system of peace and 
benevolence was soon disgraced by proscriptions, wars, 
massacres, and the institution of the holy office. And, 
as the reformers were animated by the love of civil, as 
well as of religious, freedom, the Catholic princes 
connected their own interest with that of the clergy, 
and enforced by fire and the sword the terrors of 


spiritual censures. In the Netherlands alone, more 
than one hundred thousand of the subjects of Charles 
the Fifth are said to have suffered by the hand of the 
executioner ; and this extraordinary numb6r is attested 
by GrotiuSj a man of genius and learning, who pre- 
served his moderation amidst the fury of contending 
sects, and who composed the annals of his own age 
and country, at a time when the invention of printing 
had facilitated the means of intelligence and increased 
the danger of detection. If we are obliged to submit 
our belief to the authority of Grotius, it must be 
allowed that the number of Protestants who were 
executed in a single province and a single reign far 
exceeded that of the primitive martyrs in the space of 
three centuries and of the Roman empire. But, if 
the improbability of the fact itself should prevail over 
the weight of evidence ; if Grotius should be convicted 
of exaggerating the merit and sufferings of the Re- 
formers ;^ we shall be naturally led to inquire what 
confidence can be placed in the doubtful and imperfect 
monuments of ancient credulity ; what degree of credit 
can be assigned to a courtly bishop, and a passionate 
declaimer, who, under the protection of Constantine, 
enjoyed the exclusive privilege of recording the perse- 
cutions inflicted on the Christians by the vanquished 
rivals, or disregarded predecessors of their gracious 

99 Fra Paolo (Istoria del Concilio Tridentino, 1. iii. ) reduces 
the number of Belgic martyrs to 50,000. In learning and 
moderation, Fra Paolo was not inferior to Grotius. The priority 
of time gives some advantage to the evidence of the former, 
which he loses on the other hand by the distance of Venice 
from the Netherlands. 




The unfortunate Licinius was the last rival who op- 
posed the greatness^, and the last captive who adorned 
the triumph^ of Constantine. After a tranquil and 
prosperous reign, the conqueror bequeathed to his 
family the inheritance of the Roman empire : a new 
capital, a new policy, and a new religion ; and the 
innovations which he established have been embraced 
and consecrated by succeeding generations. The age 
of the great Constantine and his sons is filled with 
important events ; but the historian must be oppressed 
by their number and variety, unless he diligently 
separates from each other the scenes which are con- 
nected only by the order of time. He will describe 
the political institutions that gave strength and sta- 
bility to the empire, before he proceeds to relate 
the wars and revolutions which hastened its decline. 
He will adopt the division, unknown to the ancients, 
of civil and ecclasiastical affairs : the victory of the 
Christians and their intestine discord will supply 
copious and distinct materials both for edification and 
for scandal. 

After the defeat and abdication of Licinius, his vic- 
torious rival proceeded to lay the foundations of a city 
destined to reign in future times the mistress of the 
East, and to survive the empire and religion of Con- 
stantine. The motives, whether of pride or of policy, 
which first induced Diocletian to withdraw himself 
from the ancient seat of government, had acquired 



additional weight by the example of his successors and 
the habits of forty years. Rome was insensibly con- 
founded with the dependent kingdoms which had once 
acknowledged her supremacy ; and the country of tlie 
Caesars was viewed with cold indifference by a martial 
prince, born in the neighbourhood of the Danube, 
educated in the courts and armies of Asia, and invested 
with the purple by the legions of Britain. The Italians, 
who had received Constantine as their deliverer, sub- 
missively obeyed the edicts which he sometimes con- 
descended to address to the senate and people of Rome ; 
but they were seldom honoured with the presence of 
their new sovereign. During the vigour of his age, 
Constantine, according to the various exigencies of 
peace and war, moved with slow dignity, or with active 
diligence, along the frontiers of his extensive domin- 
ions ; and was always prepared to take the tield either 
against a foreign or a domestic enemy. But, as he 
gradually reached the summit of prosperity and the 
decline of life, he began to meditate the design of fixing 
in a more permanent station the strength as well as 
majesty of the throne. In the choice of an advanta- 
geous situation, he preferred the confines of Europe 
and Asia ; to curb, with a powerful arm, the barbarians 
who dwelt between the Danube and the Tanais ; to 
watch with an eye of jealousy the conduct of the Persian 
monarch, who indignantly supported the yoke of an 
ignominious treaty. With these views Diocletian had 
selected and embellished the residence of Nicomedia : 
but the memory of Diocletian was justly abhorred by 
the protector of the church ; and Constantine was not 
insensible to the ambition of founding a city which 
might perpetuate the glory of his own name. During 
the late operations of the war against Licinius, he had 
sufficient opportunity to contemplate, both as a soldier 
and as a statesman, the incomparable position of By- 
zantium ; and to observe how strongly it was guarded 
by nature against an hostile attack, whilst it was ac- 
cessible on every side to the benefits of commercial 
intercourse. Many ages before Constantine, one of 


the most judicious historians of antiquity ^ had described 
the advantages of a situation^ from whence a feeble 
colony of Greeks derived the command of the sea and 
the honours of a flourishing and independent republic.^ 

If we survey Byzantium in the extent which it ac- 
quired with the august name of Constantinople,, the 
figure of the Imperial city may be represented under 
that of an unequal triangle. The obtuse point, which 
advances towards the east and the shores of Asia, 
meets and repels the waves of the Thracian Bosphorus. 
The northern side of the city is bounded by the 
harbour ; and the southern is washed by the Propontis, 
or sea of Marmara, Tlie basis of the triangle is op- 
posed to the west, and terminates the continent of 
Europe. But the admirable form and division of the 
circumjacent land and water cannot, without a more 
ample explanation, be clearly or sufficiently under- 

The winding channel through which the waters of 
the Euxine flow with a rapid and incessant course 
towards the Mediterranean received the appellation of 
Bosphorus, a name not less celebrated in the history 
than in the fables of antiquity. A crowd of temples 
and of votive altars, profusely scattered along its steep 
and woody banks, attested the unskilfulness, the terrors, 
and the devotion of the Grecian navigators, who, after 
the example of the Argonauts, explored the dangers of 
the inhospitable Euxine. On these banks tradition 
long preserved the memory of the palace of Phineus, 

1 Polybius, 1. iv. p. 423, edit. Casaubon. He observes that 
the peace of the Byzantines was frequently disturbed, and the 
extent of their territory contracted, by the' inroads of the wild 

2 The navigator Byzas, who was styled the son of Neptune, 
founded the city 656 years befcu-e the Christian sera. His 
followers were drawn from Argos and Megara. Byzantium 
was afterwards rebuilt and fortified by the Spartan general 
Pausanias. With regard to the wars of the Byzantines against 
Phihp, the Gauls, and the kings of Bithynia,' we should trust 
none but the ancient writers who lived before the greatness of 
the Imperial city had excited a spirit of flatten.' and fiction. 


infested by the obscene harpies ; ^ and of the sylvan 
reign of Amycus, who defied the son of Leda to the 
combat of the Cestus.* The straits of the Bosphorus 
are terminated by the Cyanean rocks, which, according 
to the description of the poets, had once floated on the 
face of the water?, and were destined by the gods to 
protect the entrance of the Euxine against the eye of 
profane curiosity.^ From the Cyanean rocks to the 
point and harbour of Byzantium, the winding length 
of the Bosphorus extends about sixteen miles,^ and its 
most ordinary breadth may be computed at about one 
mile and a half. The new castles of Europe and Asia 
are constructed, on either continent, upon the founda- 
tions of two celebrated temples, of Serapis and of 
Jupiter Urius. The old castles, a work of the Greek 
emperors, command the narrowest part of the channel, 
in a place where the opposite banks advance within 
five hundred paces of each other. These fortresses 
were restored and strengthened by Mahomet the Second, 
when he meditated the siege of Constantinople : ^ but 
the Turkish conqueror was most probably ignorant 

3 There are very few conjectures so happy as that of Le Clerc 
(BibHotheque Universelle, torn. i. p. 148), who supposes that the 
harpies were only locusts. The Syriac or Phoenician name of 
those insects, their noisy flight, the stench and devastation 
which they occasion, and the north wind which drives them 
into the sea, all contribute to form this striking resemblance. 

4 The residence of Amycus was in Asia, between the old and 
the new castles, at a place called Laurus Insana. That of 
Phineus was in Europe, near.' the village of Mauromole and the 
Black Sea. 

5 The deception was occasioned by several pointed rocks, 
alternately covered and abandoned by the waves. At present 
there are two small islands, one towards either shore: that of 
Europe is distinguished by the column of Pompey. 

6 The ancients computed one hundred and twenty stadia, or 
fifteen Roman miles. They measured only from the new 
castles, but they carried the straits as far as the town of 

" Under the Greek empire these castles were used as state 
prisons, under the tremendous name of Lethe, or towers of 


that, near two thousand years before his reign, Darius 
had chosen the same situation to connect the two con- 
tinents by a bridge of boats. ^ At a small distance 
from the old castles we discover the little town of 
Chrysopolis, or Scutari, which may almost be considered 
as the Asiatic suburb of Constantinople. The Bos- 
phorus, as it begins to open into the Propontis, passes 
between Byzantium and Chalcedon. The latter of 
those cities was built by the Greeks, a few years before 
the former ; and the blindness of its founders, who 
overlooked the superior advantages of the opposite 
coast, has been stigmatised by a proverbial expression 
of contempt. 

The harbour of Constantinople, which may be con- 
sidered as an arm of the Bosphorus, obtained, in a very 
remote period, the denomination of the Golden Horn. 
The curve which it describes might be compared to the 
horn of a stag, or, as it should seem, with more 
propriety, to that of an ox.^ The epithet of golden 
was expressive of the riches which every wind wafted 
from the most distant countries into the secure and 
capacious port of Constantinople. The river Lycus, 
formed by the conflux of two little streams, pours into 
the harbour a perpetual supply of fresh water, which 
serves to cleanse the bottom and to invite the periodical 
shoals of fish to seek their retreat in that convenient 
recess. As the vicissitudes of tides are scarcely felt in 
those seas, the constant depth of the harbour allows 
goods to be landed on the quays without the assistance 
of boats ; and it has been observed that in many places 
the largest vessels may rest their prows against the 
houses, while their sterns are floating in the water. 
From the mouth of the Lycus to that of the harbour 

8 Darius engraved in Greek and Assyrian letters on two 
marble columns the names of his subject nations, and the 
amazing numbers of his land and sea forces. The Byzantines 
afterwards transported these columns into the city, and used 
them for the altars of their tutelar deities. 

^ Most of the antlers are now broke off; or, to speak less 
figuratively, most of the recesses of the harbour are filled up. 


this arm of the Bosphorus is more than seven miles in 
length. The entrance is about five hundred yards 
broad, and a strong chain could be occasionally drawn 
across it, to sfuard the port and city from the attack of 
an hostile navy.i^ 

Between the Bosphorus and the Hellespont, the 
shores of Europe and Asia receding on either side 
inclose the sea of Marmara, which was known to the 
ancients by the denomination of Propontis. The navi- 
gation from the issue of the Bosphorus to the entrance 
of the Hellespont is about one hundred and twenty 
miles. Those who steer their westward course through 
the middle of the Propontis may at once descry the 
high lands of Thrace and Bithynia, and never lose 
siglit of the lofty summit of Mount Olympus, covered 
with eternal snows. They leave on the left a deep 
gulf, at the bottom of which Nicomedia was seated, the 
imperial residence of Diocletian ; and they pass the 
small islands of Cyzicus and Proconnesus before they 
cast anchor at Gallipoli ; where the sea, which separates 
Asia from Europe, is again contracted into a narrow 

The geographers who, with the most skilful accuracy, 
have surveyed the form and extent of the Hellespont, 
assign about sixty miles for the winding course, and 
about three miles for the ordinary breadth of those 
celebrated straits. ^^ But the narrowest part of the 
channel is found to the northward of the old Turkish 
castles between the cities of Sestus and Abydus. It 
was here that the adventurous Leander braved the 
passage of the flood for the possession of his mistress. 
It was here likewise, in a place where the distance 
between the opposite banks cannot exceed five hundred 

10 The chain was drawn from the Acropolis near the modern 
Kiosk to the tower of Galata, and was supported at convenient 
distances by large wooden piles. 

^1 The stadia employed by Herodotus in the description of 
the Euxine, the Bosphorus, &c. (1. iv, c. 85), must undoubtedly 
be all of the same species ; but it seems impossible to reconcile 
them either with truth or with each other. 


paces, that ! Xerxes imposed a stupendous bridge of 
boats^ for the purpose of transporting into Europe an 
hundred and seventy myriads of barbarians. ^^ A sea 
contracted within such narrow limits may seem but ill 
to deserve the singular epithet of broad, which Homer, 
as well as Orpheus, has frequently bestowed on the 
Hellespont. But our ideas of greatness are of a 
relative nature : the traveller, and especially the poet, 
who sailed along the Hellespont, who pursued the 
windings of the stream, and contemplated the rural 
scenery, which appeared on every side to terminate 
the prospect, insensibly lost the remembrance of the 
sea ; and his fancy painted those celebrated straits with 
all the attributes of a mighty river flowing with a swift 
current, in the midst of a woody and inland country, 
and at length, through a wide mouth, discharging 
itself into the ^gean or Archipelago. Ancient Troy,^^ 
seated on an eminence at the foot of Mont Ida, over- 
looked the mouth of the Hellespont, which scarcely 
received an accession of waters from the tribute of 
those immortal rivulets Simois and Scamander. The 
Grecian camp had stretched twelve miles along the 
shore from the Sigaean to the Rhoetean promontory ; 
and the flanks of the army were guarded by the bravest 
chiefs who fought under the banners of Agamemnon. 
The first of those promontories was occupied by Achilles 
with his invincible Myrmidons, and the dauntless Ajax 
pitched his tents on the other. After Ajax had fallen 
a sacrifice to his disappointed pride and to the ingrati- 
tude of the Greeks, his sepulchre was erected on the 
ground where he had defended the navy against the 

12 See the seventh book of Herodotus, who has erected an 
elegant trophy to his own fatne and to that of his country. The 
review appears to have been made with tolerable accuracy ; but 
the vanity, first of the Persians and afterwards of the Greeks, 
was interested to magnify the armament and the victory. I 
should much doubt whether the invaders have ever outnumbered 
the jnen of any country which they attacked. 

13 Demetrius of Scepsis wrote sixty books on thirty lines of 
Homer's Catalogue. The XHIth Book of Strabo is sufficient 
for our curiosity. 


rage of Jove and of Hector ; and the citizens of the 
rising town of Rhoeteum celebrated his memory with 
divine honours.^* Before Constantine gave a just 
preference to the situation of Byzantium, he had con- 
ceived the design of erecting the seat of empire on this 
celebrated spot, from whence the Romans derived their 
fabulous origin. The extensive plain which lies below 
ancient Troy, towards the Rhcetean promontory and 
the tomb of Ajax, was first chosen for his new capital ; 
and, though the undertaking was soon relinquished, 
the stately remains of unfinished walls and towers 
attracted the notice of all who sailed through the straits 
of the Hellespont. 

We are at present qualified to view the advantageous 
position of Constantinople ; which appears to have been 
formed by Nature for the centre and capital of a great 
monarchy. Situated in the forty-first degree of lati- 
tude, the imperial city commanded, from her seven 
hills, the opposite shores of Europe and Asia ; the 
climate was healthy and temperate, the soil fertile, 
the harbour secure and capacious ; and the approach 
on the side of the continent was of small extent and 
easy defence. The Bosphorus and Hellespont may be 
considered as the two gates of Constantinople ; and 
the prince who possessed those important passages 
could always shut them against a naval enemy and 
open them to the fleets of commerce. The preserva- 
tion of the eastern provinces may, in some degree, be 
ascribed to the policy of Constantine, as the barbarians of 
the Euxine, who in the preceding age had poured their 
armaments into the heart of the Mediterranean, soon 
desisted from the exercise of piracy, and despaired of 
forcing this insurmountable barrier. When the gates 
of the Hellespont and Bosphorus were shut, the capi- 
tal still enjoyed, within their spacious inclosure, every 
production which could supply the wants, or gratify 

I'l Strabo, 1. xiii. p. 595. The disposition of the ships 
which were drawn upon dry land, and the posts of Ajax and 
Achilles, are very clearly described by Homer. 


the luxury, of its uumerous inhabitants. The sea- 
coast of Thrace and Bitliynia, which laneruish under 
the weight of Turkish oppression, still exhibits a rich 
prospect of vineyards, of gardens, and of plentiful 
harvests ; and the Propontis has ever been renowned 
for an inexhaustible store of the most exquisite fish, that 
are taken in their stated seasons without skill and 
almost without labour.^^ But, when the passages of 
the Straits were thrown open for trade, they alter- 
nately admitted the natural and artiiicial riches of the 
north and south, of the Euxine, and of the Mediter- 
ranean. Whatever rude commodities were collected 
in the forests of Germany and Scythia, as far as the 
sources of the Tanais and the Borysthenes ; whatsoever 
was manufactured by the skill of Europe or Asia ; the 
corn of Egypt, and the gems and spices of the farthest 
India, were brought by the varying winds into the port 
of Constantinople, which, for many ages, attracted the 
commerce of the ancient world. 

The prospect of beauty, of safety, and of wealth, 
united in a single spot, was sufficient u> justify the 
choice of Constantine. But, as some decent mixture 
of prodigy and fable has, in every age, been supposed 
to reflect a becoming majesty on the origin of great 
cities, the emperor was desirous of ascribing his re- 
solution, not so much to the uncertain counsels of 
human policy, as to the infallible and eternal decrees 
of divine wisdom. In one of his laws he has been 
careful to instruct posterity that, in obedience to the 
commands of God, he laid the everlasting foundations 
of Constantinople ; and, though he has not conde- 
scended to relate in what manner the celestial inspira- 
tion was communicated to his mind, the defect of 
his modest silence has been liberally supplied by the 
ingenuity of succeeding writers, who describe the 
nocturnal vision which appeared to the fancy of Con- 
is Among a variety of different species, the Pelamides, a sort 
of Thunnies, were the most celebrated. We may learn from 
Polybius, Strabo, and Tacitus that the profits of the fishery 
constituted the principal revenue of Byzantium 

VOL. n. F 2 


stantiue, as he slept within the walls of Byzantium. 
The tutelar genius of the city_, a venerable matron 
sinking under the weight of years and infirmities, was 
suddenly transformed into a blooming maid, whom his 
own hands adorned with all the symbols of imperial 
greatness.^^ The monarch awoke, interpreted the 
auspicious omen, and obeyed, without hesitation, the 
will of heaven. The day which gave birth to a city 
or colony was celebrated by the Romans with such 
ceremonies as had been ordained by a generous super- 
stition ; ^'' and, though Constantine might omit some 
rites which savoured too strongly of their Pagan origin, 
yet he was anxious to leave a deep impression of hope 
and respect on tlie minds of the spectators. On foot, 
with a lance in his hand, the emperor himself led the 
solemn procession ; and directed the line which was 
traced as the boundary of the destined capital ; till the 
growing circumference was observed with astonishment 
by the assistants, who, at length, ventured to observe 
that he had already exceeded the most ample measure 
of a great city. " 1 shall still advance," replied Con- 
stantine, " till HE, the invisible guide who marches 
before me, thinks proper to stop." Without presuming 
to investigate the nature or motives of this extraordi- 
nary conductor, we shall content ourselves with the 
more humble task of describing the extent and limits 
of Constantinople. 

In the actual state of the city, the palace and 
gardens of the Seraglio occupy the eastern promontory, 
the first of the seven hills, and cover about one 
hundred and fifty acres of our own measure. The 
seat of Turkish jealousy and despotism is erected on 

18 The Greeks, Theophanes, Cedrenus, and the author of the 
Alexandrian Chronicle, confine themselves to vague and general 
expressions. For a more particular account of the vision, we 
are obliged to have recourse to such Latin writers as William 
of Malmesbury. 

" Among other ceremonies, a large hole, which had been 
dug for that purpose, was filled up with handfuls of earth, 
which each of the settlers brought from the place of his birth, 
and thus adopted his new country. 


the foundations of a Grecian republic ; but it may be 
supposed that the Byzantines were tempted by the 
conveniency of tlie harbour to extend their habitations 
on that side beyond the modern limits of the Seraglio. 
The new walls of Constantine stretched from the port 
to the Propontis across the enlarged breadth of the 
triangle, at the distance of fifteen stadia from the 
ancient fortification ; and with the city of Byzantium 
they inclosed five of the seven hills, which, to the eyes 
of those who approach Constantinople, appear to rise 
above each other in beautiful order. About a century 
after the death of the founder, the new building, ex- 
tending on one side up the harbour, and on the other 
along the Propontis, already covered the narrow ridge 
of the sixth, and ithe broad summit of the seventh, 
hill. The necessity of protecting those suburbs from 
the incessant inroads of the barbarians engaged the 
younger Theodosius to surround his capital with an 
adequate and permanent enclosure of walls.^® From 
the eastern promontory to the golden gate, the extreme 
length of Constantinople was about three Roman 
miles ; ^^ the circumference measured between ten and 
eleven ; and the surface might be computed as equal 
to about two thousand English acres. It is impossible 
to justify the vain and credulous exaggerations of 
modern travellers, who have sometimes stretched the 
limits of Constantinople over the adjacent villages of 
the European, and even of the Asiatic coast.^ But 

18 The new wall of Theodosius was constructed in the year 
413. In 447 it was thrown down by an earthquake, and re- 
built in three months by the diligence of the praefect Cyrus. 
The suburb of the Blachernse was first taken into the city in 
the reign of Heraclius. Ducange Const. 1. i. c. 10, 11. 

19 The measurement is expressed in the Notitia by 14,075 
feet. It is reasonable to suppose that these were Greek feet ; 
the proportion of which has been ingeniously determined by 
M. d'Anville. He compares the 180 feet with the 78 Hashemite 
cubits which in different writers are assigned for the height of St, 
Sophia. Each of these cubits was equal to 27 French inches. 

20 The accuiate Th^venot (1. i. c. 15) walked in one hour and 
three quarters round two of the sides of the triangle, from the 


the suburbs of Pera and Galata, though situate beyond 
the harbour, may deserve to be considered as a part of 
the city ; ^i and this addition may perhaps authorise 
the measure of a Byzantine historian, who assigns 
sixteen Greek (about fourteen Roman) miles for the 
circumference of his native city.22 Such an extent 
may seem not unworthy of an imperial residence. 
Yet Constantinople must yield to Babylon and 
Thebes,-^ to ancient Rome, to London, and even to 

The master of the Roman world, who aspired to 
erect an eternal monument of the glories of his reign, 
could employ in the prosecution of that great work 
the wealth, the labour, and all that yet remained of 
the genius, of obedient millions. Some estimate may 
be formed of the expense bestowed with imperial liber- 
ality on the foundation of Constantinople, by the allow- 
ance of about two millions fivehundred thousand pounds 
for the construction of the walls, the porticoes, and the 
aqueducts. ^^ The forests that overehadowed the shores 

Kiosk of the Seraglio to the seven towers. D'Anville examines 
with care, and receives with confidence, this decisive testimony, 
which gives a circumference of ten or twelve miles. The ex- 
travagant computation of Tournefort (Lettre XI.) of thirty-four 
or thirty miles, without including Scutari, is a strange departure 
from his usual character. 

21 The sycse, or fig-trees, formed the thirteenth region, and 
were very much embellished by Justinian. It has since borne 
the names of Pera and Galata. The etymology of the former 
is obvious ; that of the latter is unknown. 

22 One hundred and eleven stadia, which may be translated 
into modern Greek miles each of seven stadia, or 660 sometimes 
only 600, French toises. 

23 W^hen the ancient texts which describe the size of Babylon 
and Thebes are settled, the exaggerations reduced, and the 
measures ascertained, we find that those famous cities filled the 
great but not incredible circumference of about twenty-five or 
thirty miles. 

2-* If we divide Constantinople and Paris into equal squares 
of 50 French toises, the former contains 850, and the latter 1160 
of those divisions. 

25 Six hundred centenaries, or sixty thousand pounds weight 
of gold. This sum is taken from Codinus Antiquit. Const. 


of the Euxine, and the celebrated quarries of white 
marble in the little island of Proconnesus, supplied an 
inexhaustible stock of materials, ready to be conveyed, 
by the convenience of a short water-carriage, to the 
harbour of Byzantium. A multitude of labourers and 
artificers urged the conclusion of the work with incef;- 
sant toil : but the impatience of Constantine soon dis- 
covered that, in the decline of the arts, the skill as 
well as numbers of his architects bore a very unequal 
proportion to the greatness of his designs. The magi- 
strates of the most distant provinces were therefore 
directed to institute schools, to appoint professors, and 
bv the hopes of rewards and privileges, to engage in 
the study and practice of architecture a sufficient 
number of ingenious youths, who had received a liberal 
education.-^ The buildings of the new city were exe- 
cuted by such artificers as the reign of Constantine 
could afford ; but they were decorated by the hands of 
the most celebrated masters of the age of Pericles and 
Alexander. To revive the genius of Phidias and 
Lysippus surpassed indeed the power of a Roman 
emperor ; but the immortal productions which they 
had bequeathed to posterity were exposed without 
defence to the rapacious vanity of a despot. By his 
commands the cities of Greece and Asia were despoiled 
of their most valuable ornaments. The trophies of 
memorable wars, the objects of religious veneration, 
the most finished statues of the gods and heroes, of 
the sages and poets, of ancient times, contributed to 
the splendid triumph of Constantinople ; and gave 
occasion to the remark of the historian Cedrenus,'''^ 

p. II ; but, unless that contemptible author had derived his 
information from some purer sources, he would probably have 
been unacquainted with so obsolete a mode of reckoning:. 

2*5 This law is dated in the year 334, and was addressed to 
the prasfect of Italy, whose jurisdiction extended over Africa. 
The commentary of Godefroy on the whole title well deserves 
to be consulted, 

27 Hist. Compend. p. 369. He describes the statue, or rather 
bust, of Homer with a degree of taste which plainly indicates 
that Cedrenus copied the style of a more fortunate age. 


wlio observes, with some enthusiasm, that nothing^ 
seemed wantins: except the souls of the illustrious men 
whom those admirable monuments were intended to 
represent. But it is not in the city of Constantino, 
nor in the declinins: period of an empire when the 
human mind was depressed by civil and religious 
slavery, that we should seek for the souls of Homer 
and of Demosthenes. 

During- the siege of Byzantium, the conqueror had 
pitched his tent on the commanding eminence of the 
second hill. To perpetuate the memory of his success, 
he chose the same advant:igeous position for the prin- 
cipia Forum ; which appears to have been of a circular, 
or rather illiptical form. The two opposite entrances 
formed triumphal arches ; the porticoes, which inclosed 
it on every side, were filled with statues ; and the 
centre of the Forum was occupied by a lofty column, 
of which a mutilated fragment is now degraded by the 
appellation of the burnt pillar. This column was erected 
on a pedestal of white marble twenty feet high ; and 
was composed often pieces of porphyry, each of which 
measured above ten feet in height and about thirty- 
three in circumference. On the summit of the pillar, 
above one hundred and twenty feet from the ground, 
stood the colossal statue of Apollo. It was of bronze, 
had been transported either from Athens or from a 
town of Phrygia, and was supposed to be the work of 
Phidias. The artist had represented the god of day, 
or, as it was afterwards interpreted, the emperor Con- 
stantine himself, with a sceptre in his right hand, the 
globe of the world in his left, and a crown of rays 
glittering on his head. The Circus, or Hippodrome, 
was a stately building about four hundred paces in 
length and one hundred in breadth. The space be- 
tween the two metiE or goals was filled with statues and 
obelisks ; and we may still remark a very singular 
fragment of antiquity ; the bodies of three serpents, 
twisted into one pillar of brass. Their triple heads 
had once supported the golden tripod which, after the 
defeat of Xerxes, was consecrated in the temple of 


Delphi by the victorious Greeks. ^^ The beauty of the 
Hippodrome has been long- since defaced by the rude 
hands of the Turkish conquerors ; but, under the 
similar appellation of Atmeidan, it still serves as a place 
of exercise for their horses. From the throne, whence 
the emperor viewed the Circensian games, a winding- 
staircase^^ descended to the palace; a magnificent 
edifice, which scarcely yielded to the residence of 
Rome itself, and which, together with the dependent 
courts, gardens, and porticoes, covered a considerable 
extent of ground upon the banks of the Propontis 
between the Hippodrome and the church of St. Sophia. ^"^ 
We might likewise celebrate the baths, which still 
retained the name of Zeuxippus, after they had been 
enriched, by the munificence of Constantine, with lofty 
columns, various marbles, and above threescore statues 
of bronze.^^ But we should deviate from the design 

28 The guardians of the most holy relics would rejoice if they 
were able to produce such a chain of evidence as may be alleged 
on this occasion, i. The original consecration of the tripod and 
pillar in the temple of Delphi may be proved from Herodotus 
and Pausanias. 2. The Pagan Zosimus agrees with the three 
ecclesiastical historians, Eusebius, Socrates, and Sozomen, that 
the sacred ornaments of the temple of Delphi were removed to 
Constantinople by the order of Constantine ; and among these 
the serpentine pillar of the Hippodrome is particularly men- 
tioned. 3. All the European travellers who have visited Con- 
stantinople, from Buondelmonte to Pocock, describe it in the 
same place, and almost in the same manner ; the differences 
between them are occasioned only by the injuries which it has 
sustained from the Turks. Mahomet the Second broke the 
under-jaw of one of the serpents with a stroke of his battle-axe. 

29 The Latin name Cochlea was adopted by the Greeks, and 
very frequently occurs in the Byzantine history. 

30 There are three topographical points which indicate the 
situation of the palace, i. The staircase, which connected it 
with the Plippodrome or Atmeidan. 2. A small artificial port 
on the Propontis, from whence there was an easy ascent, by a 
flight of marble steps, to the gardens of the palace. 3. The 
Augusteum was a spacious court, one side of which was occu- 
pied by the front of the palace, and another by the church of 
St. Sophia. 

31 Zeuxippus was an epithet of Jupiter, and the baths were a 
part of old Byzantium. The difficulty of assigning their true 


of this history, if we attempted minutely to describe 
the different buildings or quarters of the city. It may 
be sufficient to observe that whatever could adorn the 
dignity of a great capital, or contribute to the benefit 
or pleasure of its numerous inhabitants, was contained 
within the walls of Constantinople. A particular de- 
scription, composed about a century after its foundation, 
enumerates a capitol or school of learning, a circus, 
two theatres, eight public, and one hundred and fifty- 
three private, baths, fifty-two porticoes, five granaries, 
eight aqueducts or reservoirs of water, four spacious 
halls for the meetings of the senate or courts of justice, 
fourteen churches, fourteen palaces, and four thousand 
three hundred and eighty-eight houses, which, for their 
size or beauty, deserved to be distinguished from the 
multitude of plebeian habitations.^ 

The populousness of his favoured city was the next 
and most serious object of the attention of its founder. 
In the dark ages which succeeded the translation of 
the empire, the remote and the immediate consequences 
of that memorable event were strangely confounded 
by the vanity of the Greeks and the credulity of the 
Latins. 33 It was asserted and believed that all the 

situation has not been felt by Ducange. History seems to con- 
nect them with St. Sophia and the palace ; but the original 
plan, inserted in Banduri, places them on the other side of the 
city, near the harbour. 

32 See the Notitia. Rome only reckoned 1780 large houses, 
domus ; but the word must have had a more dignified signi- 
fication. No insulcB are mentioned at Constantinople. The 
old capital consisted of 424 streets, the new of 322. 

33 The modern Greeks have strangely disfigured the anti- 
quities of Constantinople. We might excuse the errors of the 
Turkish or Arabian writers ; but it is somewhat astonishing 
that the Greeks, who had access to the authentic materials pre- 
served in their own language, should prefer fiction to truth and 
loose tradition to genuine history. In a single page of Codinus 
we may detect twelve unpardonable mistakes : the reconcilia- 
tion of Severus and Niger, the marriage of their son and 
daughter, the siege of Byzantium by the Macedonians, the 
invasion of the Gauls, which recalled Severus to Rome, the 
sixty years which elapsed from his death to the foundation of 
Constantinople, &c 


noble families of Rome,, the senate, and the equestrian 
order, with their innumerable attendants, had followed 
their emperor to the banks of the Propontis ; that a 
spurious race of stranig-ers and plebeians was left to 
possess the solitude of the ancient capital ; and that 
the lands of Italy, long since converted into gardens, 
were at once deprived of cultivation and inhabitants. 
In the course of this history, such exaggerations will 
be reduced to their just value : yet, since the growth 
of Constantinople cannot be ascribed to the general 
increase of mankind and of industry, it must be 
admitted that this artificial colony was raised at the 
expense of the ancient cities of the empire. Many 
opulent senators of Rome, and of the Eastern provinces, 
were probably invited by Constantine to adopt for 
their country the fortunate spot which he had chosen 
for his own residence. The invitations of a master are 
scarcely to be distinguished from commands ; and the 
liberality of the emperor obtained a ready and cheerful 
obedience. He bestowed on his favourites the palaces 
which he had built in the several quarters of the city, 
assigned them lands and pensions for the support of 
their dignity, ^^ and alienated the demesnes of Pontus 
and Asia, to grant hereditary estates by the easy 
tenure of maintaining a house in the capital. But 
these encouragements and obligations soon became 
superfluous, and were gradually abolished. A^Tierever 
the seat of government is fixed, a considerable part of 
the public revenue will be expended by the prince 
himself, by his ministers, by the officers of justice, 
and by the domestics of the palace. The most wealthy 
of the provincials will be attracted by the powerful 
motives of interest and duty, of amusement and 
curiosity. A third and more numerous class of 
inhabitants will insensibly be formed, of servants, of 

** If we could credit Codinus (p. lo), Constantine built houses 
for the senators on the exact model of their Roman palaces, 
and gratified them, as well as himself, with the pleasure of an 
agreeable surprise; but the whole story is full of fictions and 


artificers, and of merchantSj who derive their sub- 
sistence from their own labour and from the wants 
or luxury of the superior ranks. In less than a 
century, Constantinople disputed with Rome itself 
the pre-eminence of riches and numbers. New piles 
of buildings, crowded together with too little re- 
gard to health or convenience, scarcely allowed the 
intervals of narrow streets for the perpetual throng 
of men, of horses, and of carriages. The allotted 
space of ground was insufficient to contain the in- 
creasing people ; and the additional foundations, 
which, on either side, were advanced into the 
sea, might alone have composed a very considerable 

The frequent and regular distributions of wine and 
oil, of corn or bread, of money or provisions, had 
almost exempted the poorer citizens of Rome from the 
necessity of labour. The magnificence of the first 
Ciesars was in some measure imitated by the founder 
of Constantinople : ^ but his liberality, however it 
might excite the applause of the people, has incurred 
the censure of posterity. A nation of legislators and 
conquerors might assert their claim to the harvests of 
Africa, which had been purchased with their blood ; 
and it was artfully contrived by Augustus that, in 
the enjoyment of plenty, the Romans should lose the 
memory of freedom. But the prodigality of Constan- 
tino could not be excused by any consideration either 
of public or private interest ; and the annual tribute 
of corn imposed upon Egypt for the benefit of his new 
capital was applied to feed a lazy and indolent populace, 
at the expense of the husbandmen of an industrious 
province. Some other regulations of this emperor are 
less liable to blame, but they are less deserving of 
notice. He divided Constantinople into fourteen 

^ It appears by Socrates, 1. ii. c. 13, that the daily allow- 
ances of the city consisted of eight myriads of airov, which 
we may either translate with Valesius by the words modii 
of corn or consider as expressive of the number of loaves of 


regions or quarters/^ dignified the public council with 
the appellation of Senate^'*'^ communicated to the 
citizens the privileires of Italy, and bestowed on the 
rising city the title of Colony, the first and most 
favoured daughter of ancient Rome.- The venerable 
parent still maintained the legal and acknowledged 
supremacy which was due to her age, to her dignity, 
and to the remembrance of her former greatness.^ 

As Constantine urged the progress of the work with 
the impatience of a lover, the walls, the porticoes, and 
the principal edifices, were completed in a few years, 
or, according to another account, in a few months ; 
but this extraordinary diligence should excite the less 
admiration, since many of the buildings were finished 
in so hasty and imperfect a manner that, under the 
succeeding reign, they were preserved with diflSculty 
from impending ruin. But, while they displayed the 
vigour and freshness of youth, the founder prepared 
to celebrate the dedication of his city.^^ The games 

^ The regions of Constantinople are mentioned in the code 
of Justinian, and particularly described in the Notitia of the 
younger Theodosius ; but, as the four last of them are not in- 
cluded within the wall of Constantine, it may be doubted whether 
this division of the city should be referred to the founder. 

37 The senators of old Rome were styled Clarissimi. From 
the nth epistle of Julian, it should seem that the place of senator 
was considered as a burthen rather than as an honour ; but the 
Abb^ de la Bl^terie (Vie de Jovien, t. ii. p. 371) has shown that 
this epistle could not relate to Constantinople. Might we not 
read, instead of the celebrated name of Bu^ai'rioij, the obscure 
but more probable word BLaavdrjvoLs ? Bisanthe or Rhoedestus, 
now Rhodosto, was a small maritime city of Thrace. 

^ Julian (Orat. i. p. 8) celebrates Constantinople as not less 
superior to all other cities than she was inferior to Rome itself. 
His learned commentator (Spanheim, pp. 75, 76) justifies this 
language by several parallel and contemporary instances. 
Zosimus, as well as Socrates and Sozomen, flourished after the 
division of the empire between the two sons of Theodosius, 
which established a perfect equality between the old and the 
new capital. 

39 Cedrenus and Zonaras, faithful to the mode of superstition 
which prevailed in their own times, assure us that Constanti- 
nople was consecrated to the Virgin Mother of God. 


and largesses which crowned the pomp of this memor- 
able festival may easily be supposed ; but there is one 
circumstance of a more sing-ular and permanent nature, 
which ou^ht not entirely to be overlooked. As often 
as the birthday -of the city returned, the statue of 
Constantine, framed, by his order, of gilt wood, and 
bearing in its right hand a small image of the genius 
of the place, was erected on a triumphal car. The 
guards, carrying white tapers, and clothed in their 
richest apparel, accompanied the solemn procession 
as it moved through the Hippodrome. A\^hen it was 
opposite to the throne of the reigning emperor, he 
rose from his seat, and with grateful reverence adored 
the memory of his predecessor.'*^ At the festival of 
the dedication, an edict, engraved on a column of 
marble, bestowed the title of Second or New Rome on 
the city of Constantine. But the name of Constanti- 
nople*'^ has prevailed over that honourable epithet; 
and, after the revolution of fourteen centuries, still 
perpetuates the fame of its author.'*- 
• The foundation of a new capital is naturally con- 
nected with the establishment of a new form of civil 
and military administration. The distinct view of the 
complicated system of policy, introduced by Diocletian, 

40 The earliest and most complete account of this extraordinary 
ceremony may be found in the Alexandrian Chronicle, p. 285. 
Tillemont, and the other friends of Constantine, who are 
offended with the air of Paganism which seems unworthy of a 
Christian Prince, had a right to consider it as doubtful, but 
they were not authorised to omit the mention of it. 

41 The name of Constantinople is extant on the medals of 

42 The lively Fontenelle (Dialogues des Morts, xii.) affects to 
deride the vanity of human ambition, and seems to triumph in 
the disappointment of Constantine, whose immortal name is 
now lost in the vulgar appellation of Istambol, a Turkish cor- 
ruption of els TT]v irbXiv. Yet the original name is still pre- 
served, I. By the nations of Europe. 2. By the modern Greeks. 
3. By the Arabs, whose writings are diffused over the wide 
extent of their conquests in Asia and Africa. See d'Herbelot 
Biblioth^que Orientale, p. 275. 4, By the more learned Turks, 
and by the emperor himself in his public mandates. 


improved by Constantine, and completed by his im- 
mediate successors, may not only amuse the fancy 
by the singular picture of a grreat empire, but will 
tend to illustrate the secret and internal causes of its 
rapid decay. In the pursuit of any remarkable insti- 
tution, we may be frequently led into the more early 
or the more recent times of the Roman history ; but 
the proper limits of this inquiry will be included 
within a period of about one hundred and thirty years, 
from the accession of Constantine to the publication of 
the Theodosian code ; '^^ from which, as well as from 
the Notitia of the east and west,^^ we derive the most 
copious and authentic information of the state of the 
empire. This variety of objects will suspend, for some 
time, the course of the narrative ; but the interruption 
will be censured only by those readers who are in- 
sensible to the importance of laws and manners, while 
they peruse, withfeager curiosity, the transient intrigues 
of a court, or the accidental event of a battle. 

The manly pride of the Romans, content with sub- 
stantial power, had left to the vanity of the east the 
forms and ceremonies of ostentatious greatness. But 
when they lost even the semblance of those virtues 
which were derived from their ancient freedom, the 
simplicity of Roman manners was insensibly corrupted 
by the stately affectation of the courts of Asia. The 
distinctions of personal merit and influence, so con- 
spicuous in a republic, so feeble and obscure under a 
monarchy, were abolished by the despotism of the 
emperors ; who substituted in their room a severe 
subordination of rank and oflfice, from the titled slaves^ 
who were seated on the steps of the throne, to the 
meanest instruments of arbitrary power. This multi- 

43 The Theodosian code was promulgated A.D. 438, 

44 Pancirolus, in his elaborate Commentary, assigns to the 
Notitia a date almost similar to that of the Theodosian code : 
but his proofs, or rather conjectures, are extremely feeble. I 
should be rather inclined to place this useful work between the 
final division of the empire (a.d. 395), and the successful inva- 
sion of Gaul by the Barbarians (a.d. 407), 


tude of abject dependants was interested in the support 
of the actual government, from the dread of a revolu- 
tion, which might at once confound their hopes and 
intercept the reward of their services. In this divine 
hierarchy (for such it is frequently styled) every rank 
was marked with the most scrupulous exactness, and 
its dignity was displayed in a variety of trifling and 
solemn ceremonies, which it was a study to learn 
and a sacrilege to neglect. '^^ The purity of the Latin 
language was debased by adopting, in the intercourse 
of pride and flattery, a profusion of epithets, which 
TuUy would scarcely have understood, and which 
Augustus would have rejected with indignation. The 
principal oflScers of the empire were saluted, even 
by the sovereign himself, with the deceitful titles of 
your Sincerity, your Gravity, your Excellency, your 
Eminence, your sublime and wonderful Magnitude, your 
illustrious and magnificent Highness. The codicils or 
patents of their office were curiously emblazoned with 
such emblems as were best adapted to explain its nature 
and high dignity ; the image or portrait of the reigning 
emperors ; a triumphal car ; the book of mandates 
placed on a table, covered with a rich carpet, and 
illuminated by four tapers ; the allegorical figures of 
the provinces which they governed ; or the appellations 
and standards of the troops whom they commanded. 
Some of these official ensigns were really exhibited in 
their hall of audience ; others preceded their pompous 
march whenever they appeared in public ; and every 
circumstance of their demeanour, their dress, their 
ornaments, and their train, was calculated to inspire 
a deep reverence for the representatives of supreme 
majesty. By a philosophic observer, the system of 
the Roman government might have been mistaken for 
a splendid theatre, filled with players of every char- 

^ The emperor Gratian, after confirming a law of precedency 
published by Valentinian, the father of his Divinity, thus con- 
tinues : Siquis igitur indebitum sibi locum usurpaverit, nulla se 
ignoratione defendat ; sitque plane sacrilegii reus, qui divina 
praecepta neglexerit. 


acter and degree, who repeated the language, and 
imitated the passions, of their original model. 

All the magistrates of sufficient impoi-tance to find 
a place in the general state of the empire were accurately 
divided into three classes. 1. The Illustrious. 2. The 
Spectabiles, or Respectable: And, 3. The Clarissimi ; 
whom we may translate by the word Honourable. In 
the times of Roman simplicity, the last-mentioned 
epithet was used only as a vague expression of defer- 
ence, till it became at length the peculiar and appro- 
priated title of all who were members of the senate,**^ 
and consequently of all who, from that venerable body, 
were selected to govern the provinces. The vanity of 
those who, from their rank and office, might claim a 
superior distinction above the rest of the senatorial 
order was long afterwards indulged with the new 
appellation of Respectable ; but the title of Illustrious 
was always reserved to some eminent personages who 
were obeyed or " reverenced by the two subordinate 
classes. It was communicated only, I. To the consuls 
and patricians ; II. To the Praetorian praefects, with the 
praefects of Rome and Constantinople ; III. To the 
masters general of the cavalry and the infantry ; and, 
IV. To the seven ministers of the palace, who exercised 
their sacred functions about the person of the emperor.*^ 
Among those illustrious magistrates who were esteemed 
co-ordinate with each other, the seniority of appoint- 
ment gave place to the union of dignities.^ By the 
expedient of honorary codicils, the emperors, who 
were fond of multiplying their favours, might some- 

^ In the Pandects, which may be referred to the reigns of 
the Antonines, Clarissimus is the ordinary and legal title of a 

^7 Pancirol. pp. 12-17. ^ have not taken any notice of the 
two inferior ranks, Perfectissimus and Egregius, which were 
given to many persons who were not raised to the senatorial 

^ Cod. Theodos. 1. vi. tit, vi. The rules of precedency are 
ascertained with the most minute accuracy by the emperors 
and illustrated with equal prolixity by their learned inter- 


times gratify the vanity, though not the ambition, of 
impatient courtiers. 

I, As long as the Roman consuls were the first 
magistrates of a free state, they derived their right to 
power from the choice of the people. As long as the 
emperors condescended to disguise the servitude which 
they imposed, the consuls were still elected by the real 
or apparent suifi-age of the senate. From the reign of 
Diocletian, eveij these vestiges of liberty were abolished, 
and the successful candidates who were invested with 
the annual honours of the consulship affected to deplore 
the humiliating condition of their predecessors. The 
Scipios and the Catos had been reduced to solicit the 
votes of plebeians, to pass through the tedious and ex- 
pensive forms of a popular election, and to expose their 
dignity to the sbame of a public refusal ; while their 
own happier fate bad reserved them for an age and 
government in which the rewards of virtue were assigned 
by the unerring wisdom of a graciouS sovereign.^^ In 
the epistles which the emperor addressed to the two 
consuls elect, it was declared that they were created 
by his sole authority. Their names and portraits, en- 
graved on gilt tablets of ivory, were dispersed over the 
empire as presents to the provinces, the cities, the 
magistrates, the senate, and the people. Their solemn 
inauguration was performed at the place of the Imperial 
residence ; and, during a period of one hundred and 
twenty years, Rome was constantly deprived of the 
presence of her ancient magistrates.^ On the morning 
of the first of January, the consuls assumed the ensigns 
of their dignity. Their dress was a robe of purple, 
embroidered in silk and gold, and sometimes ornamented 
with costly gems. On this solemn occasion they were 

*9 Auso^aius (in Gratiarum Actione) basely expatiates on this 
unworthy topic, which is managed by Mamertinus (Panegyr. 
Vet. xi. i6, 19) with somewhat more freedom and ingenuity. 

50 From the reign of Carus to the sixth consulship of Honorius, 
there was an interval of one hundred and twenty years, during 
which the emperors were always absent from Rome on the first 
day of January. 


attended by the most eminent officers of the state and 
army, in the habit of senators ; and the useless fasces, 
armed with the once formidable axes_, were borne 
before them by the lictors. The procession moved 
from the palace to the Forum, or principal square of 
the city ; where the consuls ascended their tribunal, 
and seated themselves in the curule chairs, which were 
framed after the fashion of ancient times. They im- 
mediately exercised an act of jurisdiction, by the 
manumission of a slave, who was brought before them 
for that purpose ; and the ceremony was intended to 
represent the celebrated action of the elder Brutus, 
the author of liberty and of the consulship, when he 
admitted among his fellow-citizens the faithful Vindex, 
who had revealed the conspiracy of the Tarquins. The 
public festival was continued during several days in all 
the principal cities ; in Rome, from custom ; in Con- 
stantinople, from imitation ; in Carthage, Antioch, and 
Alexandria, from the love of pleasure and the super- 
fluity of wealth. In the two capitals of empire the 
annual games of the theatre, the circus, and the amphi- 
theatre,^^ cost four thousand pounds of gold, (about) 
one hundred and sixty thousand pounds sterling : and 
if so heavy an expense surpassed the faculties or the 
inclination of the magistrates themselves, the sum was 
supplied from the Imperial treasury. As soon as the 
consuls had discharged these customary duties, they 
were at liberty to retire into the shade of private life, 
and to enjoy, during the remainder of the year, the 
undisturbed contemplation of their own greatness. 
They no longer presided in the national councils ; 
they no longer executed the resolutions of peace or 
war. Their abilities (unless they were employed in 
more effective offices) were of little moment ; and their 
names served only as the legal date of the year in 

51 Claudian (in Cons. Mall. Theodori, 279-331) describes, in 
a lively and fanciful manner, the various games of the circus, 
the theatre, and the amphitheatre, exhibited by the new 
consul. The sanguinary combats of gladiators had already 
been prohibited. 


which they had filled the chair of Marius and of 
Cicero. Yet it was still felt and acknowledged^ in the 
last period of Roman servitude, that this empty name 
might be compared, and even preferred, to the posses- 
sion of substantial power. The title of consul was still 
the most splendid object of ambition, the noblest 
reward of virtue and loyalty. The emperors them- 
selves, who disdained the faint shadow of the republic, 
were conscious that they acquired an additional 
splendour and majesty as often as they assumed the 
annual honours of the consular dignity. ^^ 

The proudest and most perfect separation which can 
be found in any age or country between the nobles 
and the people is perhaps that of the Patricians and 
the Plebeians, as it was established in the first age 
of the Roman republic. Wealth and honours, the 
offices of the state, and the ceremonies of religion, 
were almost exclusively possessed by the former ; who, 
preserving the purity of their blood with the most 
insulting jealousy,^^ held their clients in a condition 
of specious vassalage. But these distinctions, so in- 
compatible with the spirit of a free people, were re- 
moved, after a long struggle, by the persevering efforts 
of the Tribunes. The most active and successful of the 
Plebeians accumulated wealth, aspired to honours, de- 
served triumphs, contracted alliances, and, after some 
generations, assumed the pride of ancient nobility." 

■>' In Consulatu honos sine labore suscipitur (Mamertin. in 
Panegyr. Vet. xi. 2). This exalted idea of the consulship is ; 
borrowed from an Oration (iii. p. 107) pronounced by Julian in 
the servile court of Constantius. 

■^ Intermarriages between the Patricians and Plebeians were 
prohibited by the laws of the XII. Tables ; and the uniform 
operations of human nature may attest that the custom survived ' 
the law. 

■^ See the animated pictures drawn by Sallust, in the Jugur- 
thine war, of the pride of the nobles, and even of the virtuous 
Metellus, who was unable to brook the idea that the honour 
of the consulship should be bestowed on the obscure merit of 
his lieutenant Marius (c. 64). Two hundred years before, the 
race of the Metelli themselves were confounded among the 


The Patrician families, on the other hand, whose 
oriaiual number was never recruited till the end of the 
commonwealth, either failed in the ordinary course of 
nature, or were extinguished in so many foreign and 
domestic wars, or, through a want of merit or fortune, 
insensibly mingled with the mass of the people.^ 
Very few remained who could derive their pure and 
genuine origin from the infancy of the city, or even 
from that of the republic, when Caesar and Augustus, 
Claudius and Vespasian, created from the body of 
the senate a competent number of new Patrician 
families, in the hope of perpetuating an order which 
was still considered as honourable and sacred.^ But 
these artificial supplies (in which the reigning house 
was always included) were rapidly swept away by the 
rage of tyrants, by frequent revolutions, by the change 
of manners, and by the intermixture of nations."" Little 
more was left when Constantine ascended the throne 
than a vague and imperfect tradition that the Patricians 
had once been the first of the Romans. To form a 

Plebeians of Rome ; and from the etymology of their name of 
CcBcilius, there is reason to believe that those haughty nobles 
derived their origin from a sutler. 

56 In the year of Rome 800, very few remained, not only of 
the old Patrician families, but even of those which had been 
created by Csesar and Augustus. The family of Scaurus (a 
branch of the Patrician .^Emilii) was degraded so low that his 
father, who exercised the trade of a charcoal merchant, left him 
only ten slaves, and somewhat less than three hundred pounds 
sterling. The family was saved from oblivion by the merit of 
the son. 

56 The virtues of Agricola, who was created a Patrician by 
the emperor Vespasian, reflected honour on that ancient order ; 
but his ancestors had not any claim beyond an equestrian 

67 This failure would have been almost impossible, if it 
were true, as Casaubon compels Aurelius Victor to affirm 
(ad. Sueton. in Caesar, c. 42. See Hist. August, p. 203, and 
Casaubon, Comment, p. 220), that Vespasian created at once 
a thousand Patrician families. But this extravagant number is 
too much even for the whole senatorial order, unless we should 
include all the Roman knights who were distinguished by the 
permission of wearing the laticlave. 


body of nobles, whose influence may restrain., while it 
secures, the authority of the monarch, would have 
been very inconsistent with the character and policy 
of Constantino ; but, had he seriously entertained such 
a design, it might have exceeded the measure of his 
power to ratify, by an arbitrary edict, an institution 
which must expect the sanction of time and of opinion. 
He revived, indeed, the title of Patricians, but he 
revived it as a personal, not as an hereditary, distinction. 
They yielded only to the transient superiority of the 
annual consuls ; but they enjoyed the pre-eminence 
over all the great officers of state, with the most familiar 
access to the person of the prince. This honourable 
rank was bestowed on them for life ; and, as they were 
usually favourites and ministers who had grown old in 
the Imperial court, the true etymology of the word 
was perverted by ignorance and flattery ; and the 
Patricians of Constantino were reverenced as the 
adopted Fathers of the emperor and the republic. 

II. The fortunes of the Pr<etorian praefects were 
essentially different from those of the consuls and 
Patricians. The latter saw their ancient greatness 
evaporate in a vain title. The former, rising by degrees 
from the most humble condition, were invested with 
the civil and military administration of the Roman 
world. From the reign of Severus to that of Diocletian, 
the guards and the palace, the laws and the finances, 
the armies and the provinces, were intrusted to their 
superintending care ; and, like the Vizirs of the East, 
they held with one hand the seal, and with the other 
the standard, of the empire. The ambition of the 
prefects, always formidable and sometimes fatal to 
the masters whom they served, was supported by the 
strength of the Prsetorian bands ; but after those 
haughty troops had been weakened by Diocletian, and 
finally suppressed by Constantino, the praefects, who 
survived their fall, were reduced without difficulty to 
the station of useful and obedient ministers. When 
they were no longer responsible for the safety of the 
emperor's person, they resigned the jurisdiction which 


tliey had hitherto claimed and exercised over all the 
departments of the palace. They were deprived by 
Constantine of all military command^ as soon as they 
had ceased to lead into the field;, under their immediate 
orders, the flower of the Roman troops ; and at length, 
by a singular revolution, the captains of the guard 
were transformed into the civil magistrates of the 
provinces. According to the plan of government 
instituted by Diocletian, the four princes had each 
their Praetorian prsefect ; and, after the monarchy was 
once more united in the person of Constantine, he 
still continued to create the same number of four 
PREFECTS, and intrusted to their care the same 
provinces which they already administered. 1. The 
prefect of the East stretched his ample jurisdiction 
into the three parts of the globe which were subject 
to the Romans, from the cataracts of the Nile to the 
banks of the Phasis, and from the mountains of Thrace 
to the frontiers of Persia. 2. The important provinces 
of Pannonia, Dacia, Macedonia, and Greece, once 
acknowledged the authority of the prsefect of Illyricum. 
3. The power of the praefect of Italy was not confined 
to the country from whence he derived his title ; it 
extended over the additional territory of Rhaetia as 
far as the banks of the Danube, over the dependent 
islands of the Mediterranean, and over that part of 
the continent of Africa which lies between the confines 
of Cyrene and those of Tingitania. 4. The praefect of 
the Gauls comprehended under that plural denomina- 
tion the kindred provinces of Britain and Spain, and 
his authority was obeyed from the wall of Antoninus 
to the foot of Mount Atlas. 

After the Praetorian praefects had been dismissed 
from all military command, the civil functions which 
they were ordained to exercise over so many subject 
nations were adequate to the ambition and abilities 
of the most consummate ministers. To their wisdom 
was committed the supreme administration of justice 
and of the finances, the two objects which, in a state 
of peace, comprehend almost all the respective duties 


of the sovereign and of the people ; of the former, to 
protect the citizens who are obedient to the laws ; of 
the latter, to contribute the share of their property 
which is required for the expenses of the state. The 
coin, the highways, the posts, the granaries, the 
manufactures, whatever could interest the public 
prosperity was moderated by the authority of the 
Praetorian praefects. As the immediate representatives 
of the Imperial majesty, they were empowered to 
explain, to enforce, and on some occasions to modify, 
the general edicts by their discretionary proclamations. 
They watched over the conduct of the provincial 
governors, removed the negligent, and inflicted punish- 
ments on the guilty. From all the inferior jurisdic- 
tions, an appeal in every matter of importance, either 
civil or criminal, might be brought before the tribunal 
of the praefect : but his sentence was final and absolute ; 
and the emperors themselves refused to admit any 
complaints against the judgment or the integrity of a 
magistrate whom they honoured with such unbounded 
confidence. His appointments were suitable to his 
dignity ;^ and, if avarice was his ruling passion, he 
enjoyed frequent opportunities of collecting a rich 
harvest of fees, of presents, and of perquisites. 
Though the emperors no longer dreaded the ambition 
of their praefects, they were attentive to counterbalance 
the power of this great office by the uncertainty and 
shortness of its duration.*^ 

From their superior importance and dignity, Rome 
and Constantinople were alone excepted from the juris- 
diction of the Praetorian praefects. The immense size 
of the city and the experience of the tardy, ineffectual 
operation of the laws had furnished the policy of 

^ When Justinian, in the exhausted condition of the empire, 
instituted a Praetorian praefect for Africa, he allowed him a 
salary of one hundred pounds of gold. 

^ For this, and the other dignities of the empire, it may be 
sufficient to refer to the ample commentaries of Pancirolus and 
Godefroy, who have diligently collected and accurately digested 
in their proper order all the legal and historical materials. 


Augustus with a specious pretence for introducing a 
new magistrate, who alone could restrain a servile and 
turbulent populace by the strong arm of arbitrary 
power. Valerius Messalla was appointed the first pra&- 
fect of Rome, that his reputation might countenance 
so invidious a measure : but, at the end of a few days, 
that accomplished citizen ^ resigned his office, declaring 
with a spirit worthy of the friend of Brutus, that he 
found himself incapable of exercising a power incom- 
patible with public freedom. As the sense of liberty 
became less exquisite, the advantages of order were 
more clearly understood ; and the praefect, who seemed 
to have been designed as a terror only to slaves and 
vagrants, was permitted to extend his civil and criminal 
jurisdiction over the equestrian and noble families of 
Rome. The praetors, annually created as the judges of 
law and equity, could not long dispute the possession of 
the Forum with a vigorous and permanent magistrate, 
who was usually admitted into the confidence of the 
prince. Their courts were deserted, their number, 
which had once fluctuated between twelve and eighteen, 
was gradually reduced to two or three, and their im- 
portant functions were confined to the expensive obli- 
gation of exhibiting games for the amusement of the 
people. After the office of the Roman consuls had 
been changed into a vain pageant, which was rarely 
displayed in the capital, the prsefects assumed their 
vacant place in the senate, and were soon acknowledged 

60 The fame of Messalla has been scarcely equal to his merit. 
In the earliest youth he was recommended by Cicero to the 
friendship of Brutus. He followed the standard of the republic 
till it was broken in the fields of Philippi : he then accepted and 
deserved the favour of the most moderate of the conquerors ; 
and uniformly asserted his freedom and dignity in the court of 
Augustus. The triumph of Messalla was justified by the con- 
quest of Aquitain. As an orator he disputed the palm of 
eloquence with Cicero himself Messalla cultivated every muse, 
and v/as the patron of every man of genius. He spent his 
evenings in philosophic conversation with Horace ; assumed his 
place at table between Delia and Tibullus ; and amused his 
leisure by encouraging the poetical talents of young Ovid. 


as the ordinary presidents of that venerable assembly. 
They received appeals from the distance of one hundred 
miles ; and it was allowed as a principle of jurispru- 
dence, that all municipal authority was derived from 
them alone. In the discharge of his laborious employ- 
ment, the governor of Rome was assisted by fifteen 
officers, some of whom had been originally his equals, 
or even his superiors. The principal departments 
were relative to the command of a numerous watch, 
established as a safeguard against fires, robberies, and 
nocturnal disorders ; the custody and distribution of 
the public allowance of corn and provisions ; the care 
of the port, of the aqueducts, of the common sewers, 
and of the navigation and bed of the Tiber ; the in- 
spection of the markets, the theatres, and of the private 
as well as public works. Their vigilance ensured the 
three principal objects of a regular police, safety, 
plenty, and cleanliness ; and, as a proof of the atten- 
tion of government to preserve the splendour and 
ornaments of the capital, a particular inspector was 
appointed for the statues ; the guardian, as it were, of 
that inanimate people, which, according to the ex- 
travagant computation of an old writer, was scarcely 
inferior in number to the living inhabitants of Rome. 
About thirty years after the foundation of Constanti- 
nople, a similar magistrate was created in that rising 
metropolis, for the same uses, and with the same 
powers. A perfect equality was established between 
the dignity of the two municipal, and that of IheJ'our 
Praetorian, praefects.^^ 

Those who, in the Imperial hierarchy, were dis- 
tinguished by the title of Respectable, formed an inter- 
mediate class between the illustrious praefects and the 
honourable magistrates of the provinces. In this class 
the proconsuls of Asia, Achaia, and Africa claimed a 

81 Besides our usual guides, we may observe that Felix Cante- 
lorius has written a separate treatise, De Prrefecto Urbis ; and 
that many curious details concerning the police of Rome and 
Constantinople are contained in the fourteenth book of the 
Theodosian Code. 


pre-eminence^ which was yielded to the remembrance 
of their ancient di^-nity ; and the appeal from their 
tribunal to that of the praefects was almost the only 
mark of their dependence.^'- But the civil govern- 
ment of the empire was distributed into thirteen great 
DIOCESES, each of which equalled the just measure of 
a powerful kingdom. The first of these dioceses was 
subject to the jurisdiction of the count of the east; 
and we may convey some idea of the importance and 
variety of his functions, by observing that six hundred 
apparitors, who would be styled at present either 
secretaries, or clerks, or ushers, or messengers, were 
employed in his immediate office. °^ The place of 
Augusial prcpfect of Egypt was no longer filled by 
a Roman knight ; but the name was retained ; and 
the extraordinary powers which the situation of the 
country and the temper of the inhabitants had once 
made indispensable were still continued to the governor. 
The eleven remaining dioceses, of Asiana, Pontica, 
and Thrace ; of Macedonia, Dacia, and Pannonia or 
Western lUyricum ; of Italy and Africa ; of Gaul, 
Spain, and Britain ; were governed by twelve vicars 
or vice-prcefects ,^^ whose name sufficiently explains 
the nature and dependence of their office. It may 
be added that the lieutenant-generals of the Roman 
armies, the military counts and dukes, who will be 
liereafter mentioned, were allowed the rank and title 
of Respectable. 

As the spirit of jealousy and ostentation prevailed 
in the councils of the emperors, they proceeded with 

^- Eunapius affirms that the proconsul of Asia was inde- 
pendent of the prasfect ; which must, however, be tmderstood 
with some allowance : the jurisdiction of the vice-prasfect he 
most assuredly disclaimed. 

^ The proconsul of Africa had four hundred apparitors ; and 
they all received large salaries, either from the treasuiy or the 
\ rovince. 

*^^ In Italy there was likewise the Vicar of Rome. It has 
h-een much disputed, whether his jurisdiction measured one 
hundred miles from the city, or whether it stretched over the 
ten southern provinces of Italy. 

VOL. II. e 


anxious diligence to divide the substance, and to 
multiply the titles of power. The vast countries which 
the Roman conquerors had united under the same 
simple form of administration were imperceptibly 
crumbled into minute fragments ; till at length the 
whole empire was distributed into one hundred and 
sixteen provinces, each of which supported an ex- 
pensive and splendid establishment. Of these, three 
were governed by proconsuls , thirty-seven by consulnrs^ 
five by correctors, and seventy-one by presidents. The 
appellations of these magistrates were different ; they 
ranked in successive order, the ensigns of their dignity 
were curiously varied, and their situation, from acci- 
dental circumstances, might be more or less agreeable 
or advantageous. But they were all (excepting only 
the proconsuls) alike included in the class of honourable 
persons ; and they were alike intrusted, during the 
pleasure of the prince, and under the authority of 
the prsefects or their deputies, with the administration 
of justice and the finances in their respective districts. 
The ponderous volumes of the Codes and Pandects ^^ 
would furnish ample materials for a minute inquiry 
into the system of provincial government, as in the 
space of six centuries it was improved by the wisdom 
of the Roman statesmen and lawyers. It may be 
sufficient for the historian to select two singular and 
salutary provisions intended to restrain the abuse of 
authority. 1. For the preservation of peace and order, 
the governors of the provinces were armed with the 
sword of justice. They inflicted corporal punistmients, 
and they exercised, in capital offences, the power of 
life and death. But they were not authorised to 
indulge the condemned criminal with the choice of 
his own execution, or to pronounce a sentence of the 
mildest and most honourable kind of exile. These 

65 Among the works of the celebrated Ulpian, there was one 
in ten books concerning the office of a proconsul, whose duties 
in the most essential articles were the same as those of an ordi- 
nary governor of a province. 


prerogatives were reserved to the praefects, who alone 
could impose the heavy fine of fifty pounds of gold : 
their vicegerents were confined to the trifling weight 
of a few ounces.^^ This distinction^ which seems to 
grant the larger, while it denies the smaller degree 
of authority, was founded on a very rational motive. 
The smaller degree was infinitely more liable to abuse. 
The passions of a provincial magistrate might frequently 
provoke him into acts of oppression which affected 
only the freedom or the fortunes of the subject ; 
though, from a principle of prudence, perhaps of 
humanity, he might still be terrified by the guilt of 
innocent blood. It may likewise be considered that 
exile, considerable fines, or the choice of an easy death 
relate more particularly to the rich and the noble ; 
and the persons the most exposed to the avarice or 
resentment of a provincial magistrate were thus removed 
from his obscure persecution to the more august and 
impartial tribunal of the Praetorian prsefect. 2. As it 
was reasonably apprehended that the integrity of the 
judge might be biassed, if his interest was concerned 
or his affections were engaged ; the strictest regula- 
tions were established to exclude any person, without 
the special dispensation of the emperor, from the 
government of the province where he was born ; and 
to prohibit the governor or his son from contracting 
marriage with a native or an inhabitant ; or from 
'purchasing slaves, lauds, or houses, within the extent 
of his jurisdiction. Notwithstanding these rigorous 
precautions, the emperor Constantine, after a reign of 
twenty-five years, still deplores the venal and oppressive 
administration of justice, and expresses the warmest 
indignation that the audience of the judge, his despatch 
of business, his seasonable delays, and his final sentence 
were publicly sold, either by himself or by the oflficers 
of his court. The continuance, and perhaps the im- 

66 The presidents, or consulars, could impose only two ounces ; 
the vice-prasfects, three ; the proconsuls, count of the east, and 
praefect of Egypt, six. 


punity, of tbese crimes is attested by the repetition of 
important laws and ineffectual menaces.^'' 

All the civil magistrates were drawn from the pro- 
fession of the law. The celebrated Institutes of 
Justinian are addressed to the youth of his dominions^ 
who had devoted themselves to the study of Roman 
jurisprudence ; and the sovereign condescends to 
animate their diligence by the assurance that their 
skill and ability would in time be rew^arded by an 
adequate share in the government of the republic. 
The rudiments of this lucrative science were taught in 
all the considerable cities of the east and west ; but 
the most famous school was that of Berytus,^^ on the 
coast of Pha?nicia ; which flourished above three 
centuries from the time of Alexander Severus, the 
author perhaps of an institution so advantageous to 
his native country. After a regular course of educa- 
tion^ which lasted five years, the students dispersed 
themselves through the provinces, in search of fortune 
and honours ; nor could they want an inexhaustible 
supply of business in a great empire, already corrupted 
by the multiplicity of laws, of arts, and of vices. The 
court of the Prjetorian praefect of the east could alone 
furnish employment for one hundred and fifty ad- 
vocates, 8ixty-four of whom were distinguished by 
peculiar privileges, and two were annually chosen with 
a salary of sixty pounds of gold, to defend the causes 
of the treasury. The first experiment was made of 
their judicial talents, by appointing them to act 
occasionally as assessors to the magistrates ; from 
thence they were often raised to preside in the tribunals 
before which they had pleaded. They obtained the 
government of a province ; and, by the aid of merit, 

67 Zeno enacted that all governors should remain in the pro- 
vince, to answer any accusations, fifty days after the expiration 
of their power. Cod. Justinian. 1. ii. tit. xlix. leg. i. 

68 The splendour of the school o^ Berytus, which preserved 
in the east the language and jurisprudence of the Romans, may 
be computed to have lasted from the third to the middle of the 
sixth century. 


of reputation, or of favour, they asceuded, by successive 
steps, to the illustrious dignities of the state.^^ In the 
practice of the bar, these men had considered reason 
as the instrument of dispute ; they interpreted the 
laws according- to the dictates of private interest ; and 
the same pernicious habits might still adhere to their 
characters in the public administration of the state. 
The honour of a liberal profession has indeed been 
vindicated by ancient and modern advocates, who have 
filled the most important stations with pure integrity 
and consummate wisdom : but in the decline of Roman 
jurisprudence, the ordinary promotion of lawyers was 
pregnant with mischief and disgrace. The noble art, 
which had once been preserved as the sacred inheritance 
of the patricians, was fallen into the hands of freedmen 
and plebeians, who, with cunning rather than with 
skill, exercised a sordid and pernicious trade. Some 
of them procured admittance into families for the 
purpose of fomenting differences, of encouraging suits, 
and of preparing a harvest of gain for themselves or 
their brethren. Others, recluse in their chambers, 

^9 As in a former period I have traced the civil and military 
promotion of Pertinax, I shall here insert the civil honours of 
Mallius Theodoras, i. He was distinguished by his eloquence, 
while he pleaded as an advocate in the court of the Praetorian 
praefect. 2. He governed one of the provinces of Africa, either 
as president or consular, and deserved, by his administration, 
the honour of a brass statue. 3. He was appointed vicar, 
or vice-praefect, of Macedonia. 4. Quaestor. 5. Count of the 
sacred largesses. 6. Praetorian praefect of the Gauls ; whilst 
he might yet be represented as a young man. 7. After a 
retreat, perhaps a disgrace, of many years, which Mallius (con- 
founded by some critics with the poet Manilius) employed in 
the study of the Grecian philosophy, he was named Praetorian 
praefect of Italy, in the year 397. 8. While he still exercised 
that great office, he was created, in the year 399, consul for the 
West ; and his name, on account of the infamy of his colleague, 
the eunuch Eutropius, often stands alone in the Fasti. 9. In 
the year 408, Mallius was appointed a second time Praetorian 
praefect of Italy. Even in the venal panegyric of Claudian, we 
may discover the merit of Mallius Theodorus, who, by a rare 
felicitv, was the intimate friend both of Symmachus and of St. 


maintained the dignity of legal professors by furnishing 
a rich client with subtleties to confound the plainest 
truth and with arguments to colour the most unjusti- 
fiable pretensions. The splendid and popular class was 
composed of the advocates^ who filled the Forum with 
the sound of their turgid and loquacious rhetoric. 
Careless of fame and of justice, they are described, 
for the most part, as ignorant and rapacious guides, 
who conducted their clients through a maze of expense, 
of delay, and of disappointment ; from whence, after 
a tedious series of years, they were at length dis- 
missed, when their patience and fortune were almost 

in. In the system of policy introduced by Augustus, 
the governors, those at least of the Imperial provinces, 
were invested with the full powers of the sovereign 
himself. Ministers of peace and war, the distribution 
of rewards and punishments depended on them alone, 
and they successively appeared on their tribunal in 
the robes of civil magistracy, and in complete armour 
at the head of the Roman legionsJ^ The influence of 
the revenue, the authority of law, and the command 
of a military force concurred to render their power 
supreme and absolute ; and whenever they were 
tempted to violate their allegiance, the loyal province 
which they involved in their rebellion was scarcely 
sensible of any change in its political state. From the 
time of Commodus to the reign of Constantine, near 
one hundred governors might be enumerated, who, 
with various success, erected the standard of revolt ; 
and though the innocent were too often sacrificed, the 
guilty might be sometimes prevented, by the suspicious 
cruelty of their master.^^ To secure his throne and 

'0 The lieutenant of Britain was intrusted with the same 
powers which Cicero, proconsul of Cilicia, had exercised in the 
name of the senate and people. 

71 The AbW Dubos, who has examined with accuracy the 
institutions of Augustus and of Constantine, observes that, if 
Otho had been put to death the day before he executed his 
conspiracy, Otho would now appear in history as innocent as 


the public tranquillity from these formidable servants. 
Constantine resolved to divide the military from the 
civil administration ; and to establish^ as a perman- 
ent and professional distinction, a practice which 
had been adopted only as an occasional expedient. 
The supreme jurisdiction exercised by the Praetorian 
praefects over the armies of the empire was transferred 
to the two masters general whom he instituted, the one 
for the cavalry, the other for the infantry; and, though 
each of these illustriov^ officers was more peculiarly 
responsible for the discipline of those troops which 
were under his immediate inspection, they both in- 
differently commanded in the field the several bodies, 
whether of horse or foot, which were united in the 
same army. Their number was soon doubled by the 
division of the east and west; and, as separate generals 
of the same rank and title were appointed on the four 
important frontiers of the Rhine, of the U]>per and the 
Lower Danube, and of the Euphrates, the defence of 
the Roman empire was at length committed to eight 
masters general of the cavalry and infantry. Under 
their orders, thirty-five military commanders were 
stationed in the provinces : three in Britain, six in 
Gaul, one in Spain, one in Italy, five on the Upper, 
and four on the Lower Danube ; in Asia eight, three 
in Egypt, and four in Africa. The titles of counts, 
and dukes,''^ by which they were properly distinguished, 
have obtained in modern languages so very different a 
sense that the use of them may occasion some surprise. 
But it should be recollected that the second of those 
appellations is only a corruption of the Latin word 
which was indiscriminately applied to any military 
chief All these provincial generals were therefore 
dukes; but no more than ten among them were dignified 
with the rank of counts or companions, a title of 

■^ Though the military counts and dukes are frequently men- 
tioned, both in history and the codes, we must have recourse 
to the Notitia for the exact knowledge of their number and 


honour, or rather of favour, which had been recently 
invented in the court of Constantine. A gold belt 
was the ensign which distinguished the office of the 
counts and dukes ; and besides their pay, they received 
a liberal allowance, sufficient to maintain one hundred 
and ninety servants, and one hundred and fifty-eight 
horses. They were strictly prohibited from interfering 
iu any matter which related to the administration of 
justice or the revenue ; but the command which they 
exercised over the troops of their department was 
independent of the authority of the magistrates. About 
the same time that Constantine gave a legal sanction 
to the ecclesiastical order, he instituted in the Roman 
empire the nice balance of the civil and the military 
powers. The emulation, and sometimes the discord, 
which reigned between two professions of opposite 
interests and incompatible manners, was productive 
of beneficial and of pernicious consequences. It v^as 
seldom to be expected that the general and the civil 
governor of a province should either conspire for the 
disturbance, or should unite for the service, of their 
country. ^Vhile the one delayed to offer the assistance 
which the other disdained to solicit, the troops very 
frequently remained without orders or without sup- 
plies; the public safety was betrayed, and the de- 
fenceless subjects were left exposed to the fury of 
the Barbarians. The divided administration which 
had been formed by Constantine relaxed the vigour 
of the state, while it secured the tranquillity of the 

The memory of Constantine has been deservedly 
censured for another innovation, which corrupted 
military discipline and prepared the ruin of the empire. 
The nineteen years which preceded his final victory 
over Licinius had been a period of licence and intestine 
war. The rivals who contended for the possession of 
the Roman world had withdrawn the greatest part of 
their forces from the guard of the general frontier ; 
and the principal cities which formed the boundary of 
their respective dominions were filled with soldiers. 


who considered their countrymen as their most im- 
placable enemies. After the use of these interna] 
garrisons had ceased with the civil war, the conqueror 
wanted either wisdom or firmness to revive the severe 
discipline of Diocletian^ and to suy>[»ress a fatal indul- 
gence which habit had endeared and almost confirmed 
to the military order. From the reiirn of Constantine^ 
a popular and even legal distinction was admitted 
between the Palatines'''^ and the Hnrdf-rers ; the troops 
of the court as they were impri)|)erly styled, and the 
troops of the frontier. The former, elevated by the 
superiority of their pay and privileges, were per- 
mitted, except in the extraordinary emergencies of 
war, to occupy their tranquil stations in the heart 
of the provinces. The mo^t flourishing cities were 
oppressed by the intolerable weiirht of quarters. The 
soldiers insensibly forgot the virtues of their profession, 
and contracted only the vices of civil life. They were 
either degraded by the industry of mechanic trades, 
or enervated by the luxury of baths and theatres. 
They soon became careless of their martial exercises, 
curious in their diet and apparel ; and, while they 
inspired terror to the subjects of the empire, they 
trembled at the hostile approach of the Barbarians.^'* 
The chain of fortifications which Diocletian and his 
colleagues had extended alone: the banks of the great 
rivers was no longer maintained with the same care 
or defended with the same vigilance. Tlie numbers 
which still remained under the name of the troops 
of the frontier might be sufficient for the ordinary 

■3 The distinction between the two classes of Roman troops 
is very darkly expressed in the historians, the laws, and the 
Notitia. Consult, however, the copious faratitlon, or abstract, 
which Godefroy has drawn up of the seventh book, de Re 
Militari, of the Theodosian Code, 1. vii. tit. i. leg. 18, 1. viii. 
tit. i. leg. 10. 

'^ Ferox erat in suos miles et rapax, ignavus, vero in hostes 
et fractus. Ammian. 1. xxii. c. 4. He observes that they loved 
downy beds and houses of marble ; and that their cups were 
heavier than their swords. 

VOL. II, G 2 


defence. But their spirit was degraded by the humi- 
liating- reflection that they who were exposed 'to the 
hardships and dangers of a perpetual warfare were 
rewarded only with about two-thirds of the pay and 
emoluments which were lavished on the troops of 
the court. Even the bands or legions that were raised 
the nearest to the level of those unworthy favourites 
were in some measure disgraced by the title of honour 
which they were allowed to assume. It was in vain 
that Constantino repeated the most dreadful menaces 
of fire and sword against the Borderers who should 
dare to desert their colours^ to connive at the inroads 
of the Barbarians, or to participate in the spoil. 
The mischiefs which flow from injudicious counsels are 
seldom removed by the application of partial severities ; 
and, though succeeding princes laboured to restore 
the strength and numbers of the frontier garrisons, 
the empire, till the last moment of its dissolution, 
continued to languish under the mortal wound which 
had been so rashly or so weakly inflicted by the hand 
of Constantine. 

The same timid policy, of dividing whatever is 
united, of reducing whatever is eminent, of dreading 
every active power, and of expecting that the most 
feeble will prove the most obedient, seems to pervade 
the institutions of several princes, and particularly 
those of Constantine. The martial pride of the legions, 
whose victorious camps had so often been the scene of 
rebellion, was nourished by the memory of their past 
exploits and the consciousness of their actual strength. 
As long as they maintained their ancient establishment 
of six thousand men, they subsisted, under the reign 
of Diocletian, each of them singly, a visible and im- 
portant object in the military history of the Roman 
empire. A few years afterwards these gigantic bodies 
were shrunk to a very diminutive size ; and, when 
seven legions, with some auxiliaries, defended the city 
of Amida against the Persians, the total garrison, with 
the inhabitants of both sexes, and the peasants of the 
deserted country, did not exceed the number of twenty 


thousand persons. ^^ From this fact, and from similar 
examples, there is reason to believe that the constitu- 
tion of the legionary troops, to which they partly 
owed their valour and discipline, was dissolved by 
Constantine ; and that the bands of Roman infantry, 
which still assumed the same names and the same 
honours, consisted only of one thousand or fifteen 
hundred men. The conspiracy of so many separate 
detachments, each of which was awed by the sense of 
its own weakness, could easily be checked ; and the 
successors of Constantine might indulge their love of 
ostentation, by issuing their orders to one hundred 
and thirty-two legions, inscribed on the muster-roll of 
their numerous armies. The remainder of their troops 
was distributedjiuto several hundred cohorts of infantry, 
and squadrons of cavalry. Their arms, and titles, and 
ensigns were calculated to inspire terror, and to dis- 
play the variety of nations who marched under the 
Imperial standard. And not a vestige was left of that 
severe simplicity which, in the ages of freedom and 
victory, had distinguished the line of battle of a Roman 
army from the confused host of an Asiatic monarch. 
A more particular enumeration, drawn from the 
Notitia, might exercise the diligence of an antiquary ; 
but the historian will content himself with observing 
that the number of permanent stations or garrisons 
established on the frontiers of the empire amounted to 
five hundred and eighty-three ; and that, under the 
successors of Constantine, the complete force of the 
military establishm.ent was computed at six hundred 
and forty-five thousand soldiers. An efl'ort so pro- 
digious surpassed the wants of a more ancient, and the 
faculties of a later, period. 

In the various states of society, armies are recruited 
from very different motives. Barbai-ians are urged by 
the love of war ; the citizens of a free republic may be 

75 Aramian. 1. xix. c. 2. He observes (c. 5), that the desperate 
sallies of two Gallic legions were like an handful of water thrown 
on a great conflagration. 


prompted by a principle of duty ; the subjects, or at 
least the nobles, of a monarchy are animated by a 
sentiment of honour; but the timid and luxurious 
inhabitants of a declining empire must be allured into 
the service by the hopes of profit, or compelled by the 
dread of punishment. The resources of the Roman 
treasury were exhausted by the increase of pay, by the 
repetition of donatives, and by the invention of new 
emoluments and indulgences, which, in the opinion of 
the provincial youth, might compensate the hardships 
and dangers of a military life. Yet, although the 
stature was lowered/^ although slaves, at least by a 
tacit connivance, were indiscriminately received into 
the ranks, the insurmountable difficulty of procuring 
a regular and adequate supply of volunteers obliged 
the emperors to adopt more effectual and coercive 
methods. Tlie lands bestowed on the veterans, as the 
free reward of their valour, were henceforward granted 
under a condition, which contains the first rudiments 
of the feudal tenures ; that their sons, who succeeded 
to the inheritance, should devote themselves to the 
profession of arms, as soon as they attained the age of 
manhood ; and their cowardly refusal was punished 
by the loss of honour, of fortune, or even of life.^" 
But, as the annual growth of the sons of the veterans 
bore a very small proportion to the demands of the 
service, levies of men were frequently required from 
the provinces, and every proprietor was obliged either 
to take up arms, or to procure a substitute, or to 
purchase his exemption by the payment of a heavy 
fine. The sum of forty-two pieces of gold, to which 

76 Valentinian (Cod. Theodos, 1. vii. tit. xiii. leg. 3) fixes the 
standard at five feet seven inches, about five feet four inches 
and a half English measure. It had formerly been five feet ten 
inches, and in the best corps six Roman feet. 

77 See the two titles, De Veteranis, and De Filiis Veteranorum, 
in the seventh book of the Theodosian Code. The age at which 
their military service was required varied from twenty-five to 
sixteen. If the sons of the veterans appeared with a horse, they 
had a right to serve in the cavalry ; two horses gave them some 
valuable privileges. 



it was reduced, ascertains the exorbitant price of 
volunteers and the reluctance with which the govern- 
ment admitted of this alternative."* Such was the 
liorror for the profession of a soldier which had affected 
the minds of the degenerate Romans that many of the 
vouth of Italy and the provinces chose to cut off the 
ringers of their right hand to escape from being pressed 
into the service ; and this strange expedient was so 
commonly practised as to deserve the severe aniuiad- 
version of the laws"^ and a peculiar name in the Latin 

The introduction of Barbarians into the Roman 
armies became every day more universal, more neces- 
sary, and more fatal. The most daring of the Scythians, 
of the Goths, and of the Germans, who delighted in 
war, and who found it more profitable to defend than 
to ravage the provinces, were enrolled, not only in 
the auxiliaries of their respective nations, but in the 
legions themselves, and among the most distinguished 
of the Palatine troops. As they freely mingled with 
the subjects of the empire, they gradually learned to 

■^8 According to the historian Socrates (see Godefroy ad. loc), 
the same emperor Valens sometimes required eighty pieces of 
gold for a recruit. In the following law it is faintly expressed 
that slaves shall not be admitied inter optimas lectissimorum 
militum turmas. 

■^9 The person and property of a Roman knight, who had 
mutilated his two sons, were sold by public auction by the 
order of Augustus. The moderation of that artful usurper 
proves that this example of severity was justified by the spirit 
of the times. Ammianus makes a distinction between the 
effeminate Italians and the hardy Gauls. Yet only fifteen years 
afterwards, Valentinian, in a law addressed to the prsefect of 
Gaul, is obliged to enact that these cowardly deserters shall 
be burnt alive. Their numbers in Illyricum were so consider- 
able that the province complained of a scarcity of recruits 
(id. leg. lo). 

^ They were called Murci. Murcidus is found in Plautus 
and Festus, to denote a lazy and cowardly person, who, accord- 
ing to Arnobius and Augustin, was under the immediate pro- 
tection of the goddess Murcia. From this particular instance 
of cowardice, murcare is used as synonymous to mutilare, by 
the writers of the middle Latinity. 


despise their manners and to imitate their arts. They 
abjured the implicit reverence which the pride of 
Rome had exacted from their ignorance^ while they 
acquired the knowledge and possession of those ad- 
vantages by which alone she supported her declining 
greatness. The Barbarian soldiers who displayed any 
military talents were advanced^ without exception, to 
the most important commands ; and the names of the 
tribunes, of the counts and dukes, and of the generals 
themselves, betray a foreign origin, which they no 
longer condescended to disguise. They were often 
entrusted with the conduct of a war against their 
countrymen ; and, though most of them preferred the 
ties of allegiance to those of blood, they did not 
always avoid the guilt, or at least the suspicion, of 
holding a treasonable correspondence with the enemy, 
of inviting his invasion, or of sparing his retreat. 
The camps and the palace of the son of Constantine 
were governed by the powerful faction of the Franks, 
who preserved the strictest connection with each other 
and with their country, and who resented every personal 
affront as a national indignity. When the tyrant 
Caligula was suspected of an intention to invest a very 
extraordinary candidate with the consular robes, the 
sacrilegious profanation would have scarcely excited 
less astonishment, if, instead of a horse, the noblest 
chieftain of Germany or Britain had been the object 
of his choice. The revolution of three centuries had 
produced so remarkable a change in the prejudices of 
the people that, with the public approbation, Constan- 
tine showed his successors the example of bestowing 
the honours of the consulship on the Barbarians who, 
by their merit and services, had deserved to be ranked 
among the first of the Romans, ^^ But as these hardy 

81 Eusebius (in Vit. Constantin. 1. iv. c. 7) and Aurelius 
Victor seem to confirm the truth of this assertion ; yet in the 
thirty-two consular Fasti of the reign of Constantine I cannot 
discover the name of a single Barbarian. I should therefore 
interpret the liberality of that prince, as relative to the orna- 
ments, rather than to the ofnce, of the consulship. 


veterans, who had heen educated in the ignorance or 
contempt of the laws, were incapable of exercising- any 
civil offices, the powers of the human mind were con- 
tracted by the irreconcilable separation of talents as 
well as of professions. The accomplished citizens of 
the Greek and Roman republics, whose characters 
could adapt themselves to the bar, the senate, the 
camp, or the schools, had learned to write, to speak, 
and to act, with the same spirit, and with equal 

IV. Besides the magistrates and generals, who at a 
distance from the court diffused their delegated autho- 
rity over the provinces and armies, the emperor con- 
ferred the rank of Illustrious on seven of his more 
immediate servants, to whose fidelity he entrusted 
his safety, or his counsels, or his treasures. 1. The 
private apartments of the j)alace were governed by a 
favourite eunuch, who, in the language of that age, 
was styled the prcepositus or pra?fect of the sacred bed- 
chamber. His duty was to attend the emperor in his 
hours of state, or in those of amusement, and to 
perform about his person all those menial services 
which can only derive their splendour from the influ- 
ence of royalty. Under a prince who deserved to 
reign, the great chamberlain (for such we may call 
him) was an useful and humble domestic ; but an artful 
domestic, who improves every occasion of unguarded 
confidence, will insensibly acquire over a feeble mind 
that ascendant which harsh wisdom and uncomplying 
virtue can seldom obtain. The degenerate grandsons 
of Theodosius, who were invisible to their subjects and 
contemptible to their enemies, exalted the prsefects of 
their bed-chamber above the heads of all the ministers 
of the palace ; and even his deputy, the first of the 
splendid train of slaves who waited in the presence, 
was thought worthy to rank before the respectable 
proconsuls of Greece or Asia. The jurisdiction of 
the chamberlain was acknowledged by the counts, 
or superintendents, who regulated the two impor- 
tant provinces of the magnificence of tjie wardrobe 


and of the luxury of the Imperial table.^^ 2. The 
principal administration of public affairs was com- 
mitted to the dilig-euce and abilities of the master of 
the oj/ices,^^ He was tlie supreme magistrate of the 
palace, inspected the discipline of the civil and military 
schools, and received appeals from all parts of the 
empire ; in the causes which related to that numerous 
army of privileged persons who, as the servants of the 
court, had obtained, for themselves and families, a 
right to decline tiie authority of the ordinary judges. 
The correspondence between the prince and his subjects 
was managed by the four scrinia or offices of this 
minister of state. The first was appropriated to memo- 
rials, the second to epistles, the third to petitions, and 
the fourth to pa})ers and orders of a miscellaneous 
kind. Each of these was directed by an inferior master 
of respectable dignity, and the whole business was des- 
patched by an liundre*! and forty-eight secretaries, 
chosen for the most part from the profession of the 
law, on account of the variety of abstracts of reports 
and references whicfi frequently occurred in the exer- 
cise of their several functions. From a condescension, 
which in former ages would have been esteemed un- 
worthy of the Roman majesty, a particular secretary 
was allowed for the Cireek language ; and interpreters 
were appointed to receive the ambassadors of the 
Barbarians : but the department of foreign affairs, 

82 By a very singular metaphor, borrowed from the military 
character of the first emperors, the steward of their household 
was styled the count of iiieir camp (comes castrensis). Cassio- 
dorius very seriously represents to him that his own fame, and 
that of the empire, must depend on the opinion which foreign 
ambassadors may conceive of the plenty and magnificence of 
the royal table. 

83 Gutherius (de Officiis Domils Augustse, 1. ii. c. 20, 1. iii.) 
has very accurately ex|>lained the functions of the master of the 
offices and the constitution o; his subordinate scrinia. But he 
vainly attempts, on the most doubtful authority, to deduce from 
the time of the Anionines, or even of Nero, the origin of a 
magistrate who cannot be found in history before the reign of 


-w^hich constitutes so essential a part of modern policy, 

seldom diverted the attention of the master of the 
offices. His mind was more seriously engaged by the 
general direction of the posts and arsenals of the 
empire. There were thirty-four cities, fifteen in the 
east, and nineteen in the west, in which regular 
companies of workmen were perpetually employed in 
fabricating defensive armour, offensive weapons of all 
sorts, and military engines, which were deposited in 
the arsenals, and occasionally delivered for the service 
of the troops. 3. In the course of nine centuries, the 
office of qactstor had experienced a very singular 
revolution. In the infancy of Rome, two inferior 
magistrates were annually elected by the people, to 
relieve the consuls from the invidious management of 
the public treasure ; ^^ a similar assistant was granted 
to every proconsul, and to every praetor, who exercised 
a military or provincial command ; with the extent of 
conquest, the two quaestors were gradually multiplied 
to the number of four, of eight, of twenty, and, for a 
short time, perhaps, of forty ; ^^ and the noblest citizens 
ambitiously solicited an office which gave them a seat 
in the senate, and a just hope of obtaining the honours 
of the republic, ^\'hilst Augustus affected to maintain 
the freedom of election, he consented to accept the 
annual privilege of recommending, or rather indeed 
of nominating, a certain proportion of candidates ; 
and it was his custom, to select one of these distin- 
guished youths, to read his orations or epistles in the 
assemblies of the senate. The practice of Augustus 

^ Tacitus (Annal. xi. 22) says that the first quaestors were 
elected by the people, sixty-four years after the foundation of 
the republic ; but he is of opinion that they had, long before 
that period, been annually appointed by the consuls, and even 
by the kings. But this obscure point of antiquity is contested 
by other writers. 

85 Tacitus seems to consider twenty as the highest number 
of qucestors ; and Dion, insinuates that, if the dictator Caesar 
once created forty, it was only to facilitate the payment of an 
immense debt of gratitude. Yet the augmentation which he 
made of praetors subsisted under the succeeding reigns. 


was imitated by succeeding princes ; the occasional 
commission was established as a permanent office ; 
and the favoured quaestor, assuming a new and more 
illustrious character, alone survived the suppression of 
his ancient and useless colleagues. ^^ As the orations 
which he composed in the name of the emperor ^^ ac- 
quired the force, and, at length, the form of absolute 
edicts, he was considered as the representative of the 
legislative power, the oracle of the council, and the 
original source of the civil jurisprudence. He was 
sometimes invited to take his seat in the supreme 
judicature of the Imperial consistory, with the Prae- 
torian praefects, and the master of the offices ; and he 
was frequently requested to resolve the doubts of 
inferior judges ; but, as he was not oppressed with a 
variety of subordinate business, his leisure and talents 
were employed to cultivate that dignified style of elo- 
quence which, in the corruption of taste and language, 
still preserves the majesty of the Roman laws. In 
some respects, the office of the Imperial quaestor may 
be compared with that of a modern chancellor ; but 
tlie use of a great seal, which seems to have been 
adopted by the illiterate Barbarians, was never intro- 
duced to attest the public acts of the emperors. 4. 
The extraordinary title of count of the sacred largesses 

86 The youth and inexperience of the quaestors, who entered 
on that important office in their twenty-fifth year, engaged 
Augustus to remove them from the management of the treasury; 
and, though they were restored by Claudius, they seem to have 
been finally dismissed by Nero. In the provinces of the Im- 
perial division, the place of the quaestors was more ably sup- 
plied by the procurators ; or, as they were afterwards called, 
rationales. But in the provinces of the senate we may still 
discover a series of qucestors till the reign of Marcus Antoninus. 
From Ulpian we may learn (Pandect. 1. i. tit. 13) that, under 
the government of the house of Severus, their provincial ad- 
ministration was abolished ; and in the subsequent troubles the 
annual or triennial elections of quaestors must have naturally 

S" The office must have acquired new dignity, which was occa- 
sionally executed by the heir-apparent of the empire. Trajan 
entrusted the same care to Hadrian his quaestor and cousin. 


was bestowed on the treasurer-general of the revenue, 
with the intention perhaps of inculcating that every 
payment flowed from the voluntary bounty of the 
monarch. To conceive the almost infinite detail of 
the annual and daily expense of the civil and military 
administration in every part of a great empire would 
exceed the powers of the most vigorous imagination. 
The actual account employed several hundred persons, 
distributed into eleven different offices, which were 
artfully contrived to examine and control their re- 
spective operations. The multitude of these agents 
had a natural tendency to increase ; and it was more 
than once thought expedient to dismiss to their native 
homes the useless supernumeraries, who, deserting 
their honest labours, had pressed with too much eager- 
ness into the lucrative profession of the finances. 
Twenty-nine pro\'incial receivers, of whom eighteen 
were honoured with the title of count, corresponded 
with the treasurer ; and he extended his jurisdiction 
over the mines, from whence the precious metals were 
extracted, over the mints, in which they were con- 
verted into the current coin, and over the public 
treasuries of the most important cities, where they 
were deposited for the service of the state. The 
foreign trade of the empire was regulated by this 
minister, who directed likewise all the linen and 
woollen manufactures, in which the successive opera- 
tions of spinning, weaving, and dyeing were executed, 
chiefly by women of a servile condition, for the use 
of the palace and army. Twenty-six of these institu- 
tions are enumerated in the west, where the arts had 
been more recently introduced, and a still larger 
proportion may be allowed for the industrious pro- 
vinces of the east.^^ 5. Besides the public revenue, 

88 In the departments of the two counts of the treasury, the 
eastern part of the Notitia happens to be very defective. It 
may be observed that we had a treasury-chest in London, and 
a gyneceum or manufacture at Winchester. But Britain was 
not thought worthy either of a mint or of an arsenal. Gaul 
alone possessed three of the former, and eight of the latter. 


whicli an absolute monarch might levy and expend 
according to his pleasure, the emperors, in the capacity 
of opulent citizens, possessed a very extensive property, 
which was administered by the count, or treasurer, of 
the private estate. Some part had perhaps been the 
ancient demesnes of kings and republics ; some ac- 
cessions might be derived from the families which 
were successively invested with the purple ; but the 
most considerable portion flowed from the impure 
source of confiscations and forfeitures. The Imperial 
estates were scattered through the provinces, from 
Mauritania to Britain ; but the rich and fertile soil 
of Cappadocia tempted the monarch to acquire in that 
country his fairest possessions, and either Constantine 
or his successors embraced the occasion of justifying 
avarice by religious zeal. They suppressed the rich 
temple of Comana, where the high priest of the 
goddess of war suf)ported the dignity of a sovereign 
prince ; and they applied to their private use the con- 
secrated lands, which were inhabited by six thousand 
subjects or slaves of the Deity and her ministers.^^ 
But these were not the valuable inhabitants ; the plains 
that stretch from the foot of Mount Argseus to the 
banks of the Sarus bred a generous race of horses, 
renowned above all others in the ancient world 
for 'their majestic shape and incomparable swiftness. 
These sacred animals, destined for the service of the 
palace and the Imperial games, were protected by the 
laws from the profanation of a vulgar master.^ The 

8* The other temple of Comana, in Pontus, was a colony 
from that of Cappadocia. The president Des Brosses (see his 
Saluste, torn. ii. p. 21) conjectures that the deity adored in both 
Coraanas was Beliis, the Venus of the east, the goddess of 
generation ; a very different being indeed from the goddess of 

^ Godefroy has collected every circumstance of antiquity 
relative to the Cappadocian horses. One of the finest breeds, 
the Palmatian, was the forfeiture of a rebel, whose estate lay 
about sixteen miles from Tyana, near the great road between 
Constantinople and Antioch. 


demesnes of Cappadocia were importaut enough to 
require the inspection of a count i'-'^ officers of an in- 
ferior rank were stationed in the other parts of the 
empire ; and the deputies of the private, as well as 
those of the public, treasurer were maintained in the 
exercise of their independent functions, and encouraged 
to control the authority of the provincial magistrates. 
6, 7. The chosen bands of cavalry and infantry which 
guarded the person of the emperor, were under the 
immediate command of the tu-o counts of the domestics. 
The whole number consisted of tliree thousand five 
hundred men, divided into seven schools, or troops, of 
tive hundred each ; and in the east, this honourable ser- 
vice was almost entirely appropriated to the Armenians. 
Whenever, on public ceremonies, they were drawn up 
in the courts and porticoes of the palace, their lofty 
stature, silent order, and splendid arms of silver and 
gold displayed a martial pomp, not unworthy of the 
Roman majesty. From the seven schools two com- 
panies of horse and foot were selected, of the protec- 
tors, whose advantageous station was the hope and 
reward of the most deserving soldiers. They mounted 
guard in the interior apartments, and were occasionally 
despatched into the provinces to execute with celerity 
and vigour the orders of their master. '^^ The counts 
of the domestics had succeeded to the office of the 
Praetorian praefects ; like the praefects, they aspired 
from the [service of the palace to the command of 

The perpetual intercourse between the court and 
the provinces was facilitated by the construction of 
roads and the institution of posts. But these bene- 
ficial establishments were accidentally connected with 
a pernicious and intolerable abuse. Two or three 

91 Justinian subjected the province of the count of Cappa- 
docia to the immediate authority of the favourite eunuch who 
presided over the sacred bed-chamber, 

92 Ammianus MarcelHnus, who served so many years, ob- 
tained only the rank of a Protector. The first ten among these 
honourable soldiers were Clarissitni. 


hundred agents or messengers were employed, under 
the jurisdiction of the master of the offices, to announce 
the names of the annual consuls and the edicts or 
victories of the emperors. They insensibly assumed 
the licence of reporting whatever they could observe 
of the conduct either of magistrates or of private 
citizens ; and were soon considered as the eyes of the 
monarch, and the scourge of the people, tinder the 
warm influence of a feeble reign, they multiplied to 
the incredible number of ten thousand, disdained the 
mild though frequent admonitions of the laws, and 
exercised in the profitable management of the posts a 
rapacious and insolent oppression. These official spies, 
who regularly corresponded with the palace, were en- 
couraged, by favour and reward, anxiously to watch 
the progress of every treasonable design, from the 
faint and latent symptoms of disaffection to the actual 
preparation of an open revolt. Their careless or 
criminal violation of truth and justice was covered by 
the consecrated mask of zeal ; and they might securely 
aim their poisoned arrows at the breast either of the 
guilty or the innocent, who had provoked their resent- 
ment or refused to purchase their silence. A faithful 
subject, of Syria perhaps, or of Britain, was exposed 
to the danger, or at least to the dread, of being dragged 
in chains to the court of Milan or Constantinople, 
to defend his life and fortune against the malicious 
charge of these privileged informers. The ordinary 
administration was conducted by those methods which 
extreme necessity can alone palliate ; and the defects 
of evidence were diligently supplied by the use of 

The deceitful and dangerous experiment of the 
criminal question, as it is emphatically styled, was 
admitted, rather than approved, in the jurisprudence 
of the Romans. They applied this sanguinary mode 
of examination only to servile bodies, whose sufferings 
were seldom weighed by those haughty republicans in 
the scale of justice or humanity : but they would never 
consent to violate the sacred person of a citizen, till 


they possessed the clearest evidence of his guilt ^^ The 
annals of tyranny, from the reign of Tiberius to that 
of Domitian, circumstantially relate the executions of 
many innocent victims ; but, as long as the faintest 
remembrance was kept alive of the national freedom 
and honour, the last hours of a Roman were secure 
from the danger of ignominious torture.^^ The conduct 
of the provincial magistrates was not, however, regu- 
lated by the practice of the city or the strict maxims 
of the' civilians. They found the use of torture 
established, not only among the slaves of oriental 
despotism, but among the Macedonians, who obeyed a 
limited monarch ; among the Rhodians, who flourished 
by the liberty of commerce ; and even among the sage 
Athenians, who had asserted and adorned the dignity 
of human kind. The acquiescence of the provincials 
encouraged their governors to acquire, or perhaps to 
usurp, a discretionary power of employing the rack, 
to extort from vagrants or plebeian criminals the 
confession of their g-uilt, till they insensibly proceeded 
to confuund the distinction of rank and to disregard 
the pri\aleges of Roman citizens. The apprehensions 
of the subjects urged them to solicit, and the interest 
of the sovereign engatred him to grant, a variety of 
special exemptions, which tacitly allowed, and even 
authorised, the general use of torture. They protected 
all persons of illustrious or honourable rank, bishops 
and their presbyters, professors of the liberal arts, 
soldiers and their families, municipal officers, and 
their posterity to the third generation, and all 
children under the age of puberty. But a fatal 

83 The Pandects (1. xlviii. tit. xviii.) contain the sentiments 
of the most celebrated civilians on the subject of torture. They 
strictly confine it to slaves ; and Ulpian himself is ready to 
acknowledge that Res est fragilis, et periculosa, et quae veritatem 

94 In the conspiracy of Piso against Nero, Epicharis (libertina 
mulier) was the only person tortured ; the rest were intacti 
tormeniis. It would be superfluous to add a weaker, and it 
would be difBcult to f.nd a stronger, examole. 


maxim was introduced into the new jurisprudence of 
the empire, that in the case of treason, which included 
every offence that the subtlety of lawyers could derive 
from an hostile intention towards tlie prince or republic,^^ 
all privileges were suspended, and all conditions were 
reduced to the same ignominious level. As the safety 
of the emperor was avowedly preferred to every con- 
sideration of justice or humanity, the dignity of age 
and the tenderness of youth were alike exposed to 
the most cruel tortures ; and the terrors of a malicious 
information, which might select them as the accom- 
plices, or even as the witnesses, perhaps, of an imaginary 
crime, perpetually hung over the heads of the principal 
citizens of the Roman world. ^^ 

These evils, however terrible they may appear, were 
confined to the smaller number of Roman subjects, 
whose dangerous situation was in some degree com- 
pensated by the enjoyment of those advantages, either 
of nature or of fortune, which exposed them to the 
jealousy of the monarch. The obscure millions of a 
great empire have much less to dread from the cruelty 
than from the avarice of their masters ; and their 
humble happiness is principally affected by the griev- 
ance of excessive taxes, which, gently pressing on the 
wealthy, descend with accelerated weight on the meaner 
and more indigent classes of society. An ingenious 
philosopher has calculated the universal measure of 
the public impositions by the degrees of freedom and 
servitude ; and ventures to assert that, according to 
an invariable law of nature, it must always increase 
with the former, and diminish in a just proportion to 
the latter. But this reflection, which would tend to 

°5 This definition of the sage Ulpian (Pandect. 1. xlviii. tit. 
iv.) seems to have been adapted to the court of Caracalla 
rather than to that of Alexander Severus. 

^6 Arcadius Charisius is the oldest lawyer quoted in tlie 
Pandects to justify the universal practice of torture in all cases 
of treason ; but this maxim of tyranny, which is admitted by 
Ammianus (1. xix. c. 12) with the most respectful terror, is en- 
forced by several laws of the successors of Constantino. 


alleviate the miseries of despotism, is contradicted at 
least by the history of the Roman empire ; which 
accuses the same princes of despoiling the senate of its 
authority and the provinces of their wealth. Without 
abolishing all the various customs and duties on 
merchandises, which are imperceptibly discharged by 
the apparent choice of the purchaser, the policy of 
Constantine and his successors preferred a simple and 
direct mode of taxation, more congenial to the spirit 
of an arbitrary government. 

The name and use of the indictions ,^^ which serve 
to ascertain the chronology of the middle ages, was 
derived from the regular practice of the Roman 
tributes.^^ The emperor subscribed with his own 
hand, and in purple ink, the solemn edict, or indic- 
tion, which was fixed up in the principal city of each 
diocese during two months previous to the first day 
of September. And, by a very easy connection of 
ideas, the word indiction was transferred to the measure 
of tribute which it prescribed, and to the annual term 
which it allowed for the payment. This general 
estimate of the supplies was proportioned to the real 
and imaginary wants of the state ; but, as often as the 
expense exceeded the revenue, or the revenue fell 
short of the computation, an additional tax, under the 
name of superindiction, was imposed on the people, 
and the most valuable attribute of sovereignty was 
communicated to the Praetorian praefects, who, on 
some occasions, were permitted to provide for the 
unforeseen and extraordinary exigencies of the public 

97 The cycle of indictions, which may be traced as high as 
the reign of Constantius, or perhaps of his father Constantine, 
is still employed by the papal court : but the commencement 
of the year has been very reasonably altered to the first of 

98 The first twenty-eight titles of the eleventh book of the 
Theodosian Code are filled with the circumstantial regulations 
on the important subject of tributes ; but they suppose a 
clearer knowledge of fundamental principles than it is at 
present in our power to attain. 


service. The execution of these laws (which it would 
be tedious to pursue in their minute and intricate 
detail) consisted of two distinct operations ; the re- 
solving the general imposition into its constituent 
parts, which were assessed on the provinces, the cities, 
and the individuals of the Roman world, and the 
collecting the separate contributions of the individuals, 
the cities, and the provinces, till the accumulated sums 
were poured into the Imperial treasuries. But, as the 
account between the monarch and the subject was 
perpetually open, and as the renewal of the demand 
anticipated the perfect discharge of the preceding 
obligation, the weighty machine of the finances was 
moved by the same hands round the circle of its 
yearly revolution. Whatever was honourable or im- 
portant in the administration of the revenue was 
committed to the wisdom of the praefects and their 
provincial representatives ; the lucrative functions 
were claimed by a crowd of subordinate officers, some 
of whom depended on the treasurer, others on the 
governor of the province ; and who, in the inevitable 
conflicts of a perplexed jurisdiction, had frequent 
opportunities of disputing with each other the spoils 
of the people. The laborious offices, which could be 
productive only of envy and reproach, of expense and 
danger, were imposed on the Decurions, who formed 
the corporations of the cities, and whom the severity 
of the Imperial laws had condemned to sustain the 
burthens of civil society. ^^ The whole landed property 
of the empire (without excepting the patrimonial 
estates of the monarch) was the object of ordinary 
taxation ; and every new purchaser contracted the 
obligations of the former proprietor. An accurate 
census, or survey, was the only equitable mode of 

89 The title concerning the Decurions (1. xii, tit. i.) is the 
most ample in the whole Theodosian Code ; since it contains 
not less than one hundred and ninety-two distinct laws to 
ascertain the duties and privileges of that useful order of 


ascertaining the proportion which every citizen should 
be ohliared to contribute for the public service ; and 
from the well-known period of the indictions there is 
reason to believe that this difficult and expensive 
operation was repeated at the regular distance of 
fifteen years. The lands were measured by surveyors^ 
who were sent into the provinces ; their nature, 
whether arable or pasture, or vineyards or woods, was 
distinctly reported ; and an estimate was made of their 
common value from the average produce of five years. 
TTie numbers of slaves and of cattle constituted an 
essential part of the report ; an oath was administered 
to the proprietors, which bound them to disclose the 
true state of their affairs ; and their attempts to pre- 
varicate, or elude the intention of the legislator, were 
severely watched, and punished as a capital crime 
which included the double guilt of treason and sac- 
rilege. A large portion of the tribute was paid in 
money ; and of the current coin of the empire, gold 
alone could be legally accepted. The remainder of 
the taxes, according to the proportions determined by 
the annual indiction, was furnished in a manner still 
more direct, and still more oppressive. According to 
the different nature of lands, their real produce, in 
the various articles of wine or oil, corn or barley, wood 
or iron, was transported by the labour or at the expense 
of the provincials to the Imperial magazines, from 
whence they were occasionally distributed, for the use 
of the court, of the army, and of the two capitals, 
Rome and Constantinople. The commissioners of the 
revenue were so frequently obliged to make consider- 
able purchases that they were strictly prohibited from 
allowing any compensation or from receiving in money 
the value of those supplies which were exacted in kind. 
In the primitive simplicity of small communities, this 
method may be well adapted to collect the almost 
voluntary offerings of the people ; but it is at once 
susceptible of the utmost latitude and of the utmost 
strictness, which in a corrupt and absolute monarchy 
m.ust introduce a perpetual contest between the power 


of oppression and the arts of fraud. ^'^ The agriculture 
of the Roman provinces was insensibly ruined, and, in 
the progress of despotism, which tends to disappoint 
its own purpose, the emperors were obliged to derive 
some merit from the forgiveness of debts, or the re- 
mission of tributes, which their subjects were utterly 
incapable of paying. According to the new division 
of Italy, the fertile and happy province of Campania, 
the scene of the early victories and of the delicious 
retirements of the citizens of Rome, extended between 
the sea and the Apennine from the Tiber to the Silarus. 
Within sixty years after the death of Constantine, and 
on the evidence of an actual survey, an exemption was 
granted in favour of three hundred and thirty thousand 
English acres of desert and uncultivated land ; which 
amounted to one-eighth of the whole surface of the 
province. As the footsteps of the Barbarians had not 
yet been seen in Italy, the cause of this amazing 
desolation, which is recorded in the laws, can be 
ascribed only to the administration of the Roman 

Either from design or from accident, the mode of 
assessment seemed to unite the substance of a land-tax 
witli the forms of a capitation. ^"-'^ The returns which 
were sent of every province or district expressed the 

100 Some precautions were taken to restrain the magistrates 
from the abuse of their authority, either in the exaction or in 
the purchase of corn : but those who had learning enough to 
read the orations of Cicero against Verres (iii, de Frumento) 
might instruct themselves in all the various acts of oppression, 
with regard to the weight, the price, the quality, and the 
carriage. The avarice of an unlettered governor would supply 
the ignorance of precept or precedent. 

101 Cod. Theod. 1. xi. tit. xxviii. leg. 2, published the 24th of 
March, a.d. 395, by the emperor Honoriixs, only two months 
after the death of his father Theodosius. He speaks of 528,042 
Roman jugera, which I have reduced to the English measure. 
The jugemm contained 28,800 square Roman feet. 

102 Godefroy (Cod. Theod. tom. vi. p. 116) argues with 
weight and learning on the subject of the capitation ; but, 
while he explains the caput as a share or measure of property, 
he too absolutely excludes the idea of a personal assessment. 


number of tributary subjects and the amount of the 
public impositions. The latter of these sums was 
divided by the former ; and the estimate^ that such a 
province contained so many capita, or heads of tribute, 
and that each head was rated at such a price,, was 
universally received^ not only in the popular, but even 
in the leg-al computation. The value of a tributary 
head must have varied, according to many acciden- 
tal, or at least fluctuating, circumstances ; but some 
knowledge has been preserved of a very curious fact, 
the more important, since it relates to one of the 
richest provinces of the Roman empire, and which 
now flourishes as the most splendid of the European 
kingdoms. Tlie rapacious ministers of Constantius had 
exhausted the wealth of Gaul, by exacting twenty-five 
pieces of gold for the annual tribute of every head. 
The humane policy of his successor reduced the capita- 
tion to seven pieces. A moderate proportion between 
these opposite extremes of extravagant oppression and 
of transient indulgence may therefore be fixed at sixteen 
pieces of gold, or about nine pounds sterling, the 
common standard perhaps of the impositions of Gaul.^*'^ 
But this calculation, or rather indeed the facts from 

103 In the calculation of any sum of money under Constan- 
tine and his successors, we need only refer to the excellent 
discourse of Mr. Greaves on the Denarius for the proof of the 
following principles : i. That the ancient and modern Roman 
pound, containing 5256 grains of Troy weight, is about one- 
twelfth lighter than '^the English pound, which is composed of 
5760 of the same grains. 2. That the pound of gold, which 
had once been divided into forty-eight aurei, was at this time 
coined into seventy-two smaller pieces of the same denomina- 
tion. 3. That five of these aurei were the legal tender for a 
pound of silver, and that consequently the pound of gold was 
exchanged for fourteen pounds eight ounces of silver according 
to the Roman, or about thirteen pounds according to the 
English, weight. 4. That the English pound of silver is 
coined into sixty-two shillings. From these elements we may 
compute the Roman pound of gold, the usual method of 
reckoning large sums, at forty pounds sterling ; and we may fix 
the currency of the aureus at somev/hat more than eleven 


whence it is deduced, cannot fail of suggestluj^ two 
difficulties to a thinking mind, who will be at once 
surprised by the equality and by the enormity of the 
capitation. An attempt to explain them may perhaps 
reflect some light on the interesting subject of the 
finances of the declining empire. 

L It is obvious that, as long as the immutable con- 
stitution of human nature produces and maintains so 
unequal a division of property, the most numerous 
part of the community would be deprived of their sub- 
sistence by the equal assessment of a tax from which 
the sovereign would derive a very trifling revenue. 
Such indeed might be the theory of the Roman capita- 
tion ; but in the practice, this unjust equality was no 
longer felt, as the tribute was collected on the principle 
of a real, not of a personal, imposition. Several in- 
digent citizens contributed to compose a single head, 
or share of taxation ; while the wealthy provincial, in 
proportion to his fortune, alone represented several of 
those imaginary beings. In a poetical request, ad- 
dressed to one of the last and most deserving of the 
Roman princes who reigned in Gaul, Sidonius Apolli- 
naris personifies his tribute under the figure of a triple 
monster, the Geryon of the Grecian fables, and entreats 
the new Herculesthat he would mostgraciously be pleased 
to save his life by cutting off three of his heads. The 
fortune of Sidonius far exceeded the customary wealth 
of a poet ; but, if he had pursued the allusion, he must 
have painted many of the Gallic nobles with the hundred 
heads of the deadly Hydra spreading over the face of 
the country and devouring the substance of an hundred 
families. II. The difficulty of allowing an annual sum 
of about nine pounds sterling, even for the average of 
the capitation of Gaul, may be rendered more evident 
by the comparison of the present state of the same 
country, as it is now governed by the absolute monarch 
of an industrious, wealthy, and affectionate people. 
The taxes of France cannot be magnified, either by 
fear or by flattery, beyond the annual amount of 
eighteen millions sterling, which ought perhaps to be 


shared among four and twenty millions of inhabitants.^^ 
Seven millions of these^ in the capacity of fathers or 
brothers or husbands^ may discharge the obligations of 
the remaining multitude of women and children ; yet 
the equal proportion of each tributary subject will 
scarcely rise above fifty shillings of our money^ instead 
of a proportion almost four times as considerable, 
which was regularly imposed on their Gallic ancestors. 
The reason of this difference may be found, not so 
much in the relative scarcity or plenty of gold and 
silver, as in the different state of society in ancient 
Gaul and in modern France. In a country where 
personal freedom is the privilege of every subject, the 
whole mass of taxes, whether they are levied on pro- 
perty or on consumption, may be fairly divided among 
the whole body of the nation. But the far greater 
part of the lauds of ancient Gaul, as well as of the 
other provinces of the Roman world, were cultivated 
by slaves, or by peasants whose dependent condition 
was a less rigid servitude. In such a state the poor 
were maintained at the expense of the masters, who 
enjoyed the fruits of their labour ; and, as the rolls 
of tribute were filled only with the names of those 

lO'i This assertion, however formidable it may seem, is 
founded on the original registers of births, deaths, ;and 
marriages, collected by public authority, and now deposited in 
the Co7itr6le Giniral at Paris. The annual average of births 
throughout the whole kingdom, taken in five years (from 1770 
to 1774, both inclusive), is 479,649 boys and 449,269 girls, in all 
928,918 children. The province of French Hainault alone fur- 
nishes 9906 births : and we are assured, by an actual enumera- 
tion of the people, annually repeated from the year 1773 to the 
year 1776, that, upon an average, Hainault contains 257,097 
inhabitants. By the rules of fair analogy, we might infer that 
the ordinary proportion of annual births to the whole people, is 
about I to 26 ; and that the kingdom of France contains 
24,151,868 persons of both sexes and of every age. If we content 
ourselves with the more moderate proportion of i to 25, the whole 
population will amount to 23,222,950. From the diligent re- 
searches of the French government (which are not unworthy of 
our own imitation), we may hope to obtain a still greater degree 
of certainty on this important subject. 


citizens who possessed the means of an honourable, 
or at least of a decent, subsistence, the comparative 
sraallness of their numbers explains and justifies the 
high rate of their capitation. The truth of this asser- 
tion may be illustrated by the following- example : 
The ^dui, one of the most powerful and civilised 
tribes or cities of Gaul, occupied an extent of territory 
which now contains above five hundred thousand in- 
habitants in the two ecclesiastical dioceses of Autun 
and Nevers : ^^^ and with the probable accession of those 
of Chalons and Macon, ^^ the population would amount 
to eight hundred thousand souls. In the time of 
Constantine, the territory of the iEdui afforded no 
more than twenty-five thousand heads of capitation, 
of whom seven thousand were discharged by that prince 
from the intolerable weight of tribute. A just analogy 
would seem to countenance the opinion of an ingenious 
historian, that the free and tributary citizens did not 

los The ancient jurisdiction of [Aug-ustodunum) Autun in Bur- 
gundy, the capital of the ^dui, comprehended the adjacent terri- 
tory of {Noviodunum) Nevers. The two dioceses of Autun and 
Nevers are now composed, the former of 6io, and the latter of 
i6o, parishes. The registers of births, taken during eleven years, 
in 476 parishes of the same province of Burgundy, and multiplied 
by the moderate proportion of 25 (see Messance, Recherches sur 
la Population, p. 142), may authorise us to assign an average 
nvimber of 656 persons for each parish, which being again 
multiplied by the 770 parishes of the diocese of Nevers and 
Autun will produce the sum of 505,120 persons for the extent of 
country which was once possessed by the ^dui. 

106 We might derive an additional supply of 301,750 inhabi- 
tants from the dioceses of Chalons [Cabillomim] and of Macon 
{Matisco) ; since they contain, the one 200, and the other 260, 
parishes. This accession of territory might be justified by very 
specious reasons, i, Chalons and Macon were undoubtedly 
within the original jurisdiction of the ^dui. 2. In the Notitia 
of Gaul, they are enumerated not as Civiiates, but merely 
as Custra. 3. They do not appear to have been episcopal 
seats before the fifth and sixth centuries. Yet there is a 
passage in Eumenius (Panegyr. Vet. viii. 7) which very forcibly 
deters me from extending the territory of the ^dui, in the 
reign of Constaniine, along the beautiful banks of the navigable 


surpass the number of half a million ; and if, in the 
ordinary administration of government^ their annual 
payments may be computed at about four millions and 
a half of our money^ it would appear that, although 
the share of each individual was four times as con- 
siderable, a fourth part only of the modern taxes of 
France was levied on the Imperial province of Gaul, 
llie exactions of Constantius may be calculated at 
seven millions sterling, which were reduced to two 
millions by the humanity or the wisdom of Julian. 

But this tax or capitation on the proprietors of land 
would have suffered a rich and numerous class of free 
citizens to escape. AMth the view of sharing that 
species of wealth which is derived from art or labour, and 
which exists in money or in merchandise, the emperors 
imposed a distinct and personal tribute on the trading 
part of their subjects. Some exemptions, very strictly 
confined both in time and place, were allowed to the 
proprietors who disposed of the produce of their own 
estates. Some indulgence was granted to the pro- 
fession of the liberal arts : but every other branch of 
commercial industry was affected by the severity of the 
law. The honourable merchant of Alexandria, who 
imported the gems and spices of India for the use of 
the western world ; the usurer, who derived from the 
interest of money a silent and ignominious profit ; the 
ingenious manufacturer, the diligent mechanic, and 
even the most obscure retailer of a sequestered village, 
were obliged to admit the officers of the revenue into 
the partnership of their gain : and the sovereign of the 
Roman empire, who tolerated the profession, consented 
to share the infamous salary, of public prostitutes. As 
this general tax upon industry was collected every 
fourth year, it was styled the Lustra! Contrihution : and 
the historian Zosimus laments that the approach of 
the fatal period was announced by the tears and terrors 
of the citizens, who were often compelled by the im- 
pending scourge to embrace the most abhorred and 
unnatural methods of procuring the sum at which their 
property had been assessed. The testimony of Zosimus 

VOL. II. jj 


cannot indeed be justified from the charge of passion 
and prejudice ; but, from the nature of this tribute_, it 
seems reasonable to conclude that it was arbitrary in 
the distribution, and extremely rigorous in the mode 
of collecting. The secret wealth of commerce, and the 
precarious profits of art or labour, are susce])tible only 
of a discretionary valuation, which is seldom dis- 
advantageous to the interest of the treasury ; and, as 
the person of the ti'ader supplies the want of a visible 
and permanent security, the payment of the imposition, 
which, in the case of a land-tax, may be obtained by tht 
seizure of property, can rarely be extorted by any 
other means than those of corporal punishments. The 
cruel treatment of the insolvent debtors of the state is 
attested, and was perhaps mitigated, by a very humane 
edict of Constantino, who, disclaiming the use of racks 
and of scourges, allots a spacious and airy prison for 
the place of their confinement. 

These general taxes were imposed and levied by the 
absolute authority of the monarch ; but the occasional 
offerings of the coronary gold still retained the name 
and semblance of j)opular consent. It was an ancient 
custom that the allies of the republic, who ascribed 
their safety or deliverance to the success of the Roman 
arms ; and even the cities of Italy, who admired the 
virtues of their victorious general ; adorned the pomp 
of his triumph by their voluntary gifts of crowns of 
gold, which, after the ceremony, were consecrated in 
the temple of Jupiter, to remain a lasting monument 
of his glory to future ages. The progress of zeal iiud 
flattery soon multiplied the number, and increased the 
size, of these popular donations ; and the triumph of 
Cajsar was enriched with two thousand eiij-ht hundred 
and twenty-two massy crowns, wliose weight amounted 
to twenty thousand four hundred and fourteen pounds 
of gold. This treasure was immediately melted down 
by the prudent dictator, who was satisfied that it would 
be more serviceable to his soldiers than to the gods : 
his example was imitated by his successors ; and the 
custom was introduced of exchanging these splendid 


oruameuts for the more acceptable present of the 
current g-old coin of the empire, ^<^'' The spontaneous 
offering was at length exacted as the debt of duty ; 
and, instead of being confined to the occasion of a 
triumph, it was supposed to be granted by the several 
cities and provinces of the monarchy as often as the 
emperor condescended to announce his accession, his 
consulship, the birth of a son, the creation of a C»sar, 
a victory over the Barbarians, or any other real or 
imaginary event which graced the annals of his reign. 
The peculiar free gift of the senate of Rome was fixed 
by custom at sixteen hundred pounds of gold, or about 
sixty-four thousand pounds sterling. The oppressed 
subjects celebrated their own felicity, that their 
sovereign should graciously consent to accept this 
feeble but voluntary testimony of their loyalty and 

A people elated by pride, or soured by discontent, 
are seldom qualified to form a just estimate of their 
actual situation. The subjects of Constantine were 
incapable of discerning the decline of genius and manly 
virtue, which so far degraded them below the dignity 
of their ancestors ; but they could feel and lament the 
rage of tyranny, the relaxation of discipline, and the 
increase of taxes. The impartial historian, who ac- 
knowledtj-es the justice of their complaints, will observe 
some favourable circumstances which tended to alleviate 
the misery of their condition. The threatening tempest 
of Barbarians, which so soon subverted the foundations 
of Roman greatness, was still repelled, or suspended, 
on the frontiers. The arts of luxury and literature 
were cultivated, and the elegant pleasures of society 

i<^ The Tarragonese Spain presented the emperor Claudius 
with a crown of gold of seven, and Gaul with another of nine, 
hundred pounds' weight. I have followed the rational emenda- 
tion of Lipsius. 

108 Cod. Theod. 1. xii. tit. xiii. The senators were supposed 
to be exempt from the Aurum Coronarium ; but the Ann. 
Oblatio, which was required at their hands, was precisely of 
the sam? nature. 


were enjoyed^ by the inhabitants of a considerable 
portion of the globe. The forms, the pomp, and the 
expense of the civil administration contributed to 
restrain the irregular licence of the soldiers ; and, 
although the laws were violated by power or perverted 
by subtlety, the sage principles of the Roman juris- 
prudence preserved a sense of order and equity, un- 
known to the despotic governments of the east. The 
rights of mankind might derive some protection from 
religion and philosophy ; and the name of freedom, 
which could no longer alarm, might sometimes ad- 
monish, the successors of Augustus that they did not 
reign over a nation of slaves or barbarians. i°® 

103 The great Theodosius, in his judicious advice to his son 
(Claudian in iv. Consulat. Honorii, 214, &c.), distinguishes the 
station of a Roman prince from that of a Partnian monarch. 
Virtue was necessary for the one ; birth might suffice for the 








The character of the prince who removed the seat of 
empire and introduced such important changes into 
the civil and religious constitution of his country has 
fixed the attention, and divided the opinions, of man- 
kind. By the grateful zeal of the Christians, the 
deliverer of the church has been decorated with every 
attribute of a hero, and even of a saint ; while the 
discontent of the vanquished party has compared 
Constantino to the most abhorred of those tyrants, 
who, by their vice and weakness, dishonoured the 
Imperial purple. The same passions have in some 
degree been perpetuated to succeeding generations, 
and the character of Constantine is considered, even 
in the present age, as an object either of satire or of 
panegyric. By the impartial union of those defects 
which are confessed by his warmest admirers and of 
those virtues which are acknowledged by his most 
implacable enemies, we might hope to delineate a just 
portrait of that extraordinary man, which the truth 
and candour of history should adopt without a blush. 
But it would soon appear that the vain attempt to 
blend such discordant colours, and to reconcile such 
inconsistent qualities, must produce a figure monstrous 
rather than human, unless it is viewed in its proper 
and distinct lights by a careful separation of the 
different periods of the reign of Constantine. 

The person, as well as the mind, of Constantine had 


been enriched by nature with her choicest endowments. 
J lis stature was lofty, his countenance majestic, his 
deportment graceful ; his strength and activity were 
displayed in every manly exercise, and from his earliest 
youth to a very advanced season of life, he preserved 
the vigour of his constitution by a strict adlierence to 
the domestic virtues of chastity and temperance. He 
delighted in the social intercourse of familiar conversa- 
tion ; and, though he might sometimes indulge his dis- 
position to raillery with less reserve than was required 
by the severe dignity of his station, the courtesy and 
liberality of his manners gained the hearts of all who 
approached him. The sincerity of his friendship has 
been suspected ; yet he showed, on some occasions, 
that he was not incapable of a warm and lasting attach- 
ment. The disad\'antage of an illiterate education 
had not prevented him from forming a just estimate 
of the value of learning ; and the arts and sciences 
derived some encouragement from the munificent 
protection of Constantine. In the despatch of business, 
his diligence was indefatigable ; and the active powers 
of his mind were almost continually exercised in read- 
ing, writing, or meditating, in giving audience to 
ambassadors, and in examining the complaints of his 
subjects. Even those who censured the propriety of 
his measures were compelled to acknowledge that he 
])ossessed magnanimity to conceive, and patience to 
execute, the most arduous designs, without being 
checked either by the prejudices of education or by 
the clamours of the multitude. In the field, he infused 
liis own intrepid spirit into the troops, whom he con- 
ducted with the talents of a consummate general ; and 
to his abilities, rather than to his fortune, we may 
ascribe the signal victories which he obtained over the 
foreign and domestic foes of the republic. He loved 
glory, as the reward, perhaps as the motive, of his 
labours. The boundless ambition, which, from the 
moment of his accepting the purple at York, appears 
as the ruling passion of his soul, may be justified by 
the dangers of his own situation, by the character of 

323-337 OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE 231 

his rivals, by the consciousness of superior merit, and 
by the prospect that his success would enable him to 
restore peace and order to the distracted empire. In 
his civil wars against Maxentius and Licinius, he had 
engaged on his side the inclinations of the people, who 
compared the imdissembled vices of those tyrants 
with the spirit of wisdom and justice which seemed 
to direct the general tenor of the administration of 

Had Constantine fallen on the banks of the Tiber, 
or even in the plains of Hadrianople, such is the 
character which, with a few exceptions, he might have 
transmitted to posterity. But the conclusion of his 
reign (according to the moderate and indeed tender 
sentence of a writer of the same age) degraded him 
from the rank which he had acquired among the most 
deserving of the Roman princes. In the ' life of 
Augustus, we behold the tyrant of the republic con- 
verted, almost by imperceptible degrees, into the father 
of his country and of human kind. In that of Con- 
stantine, we may contemplate a hero, who had so long 
inspired his subjects with love and his enemies with 
terror, dearenerating into a cruel and dissolute monarch, 
corrupted by his fortune, or raised by conquest above 
the necessity of dissimulation. The general peace 
which he maintained during the last fourteen years of 
his reign was a period of apparent splendour rather 
than of real prosperity ; and the old age of Constantine 
was disgraced by the opposite yet reconcilable vices 
of rapaciousness and prodigality. The accumulated 
treasures found in the palaces of Maxentius and 
Liciuius were lavishly consumed ; the various innova- 
tions introduced by the conqueror were attended with 
an increasing expense ; the cost of his buildings, his 
court, and his festivals, required an immediate and 

1 The virtues of Constantine are collected for the most part 
from Eutropius and the younger Victor, two sincere pagans, 
who wTote after the extinction of his family. Even Zosimus 
and the Emperor Julian acknowledge his personal courage and 
military achievements. 


plentiful supply ; and the oppression of the people was 
the only fund which could support the magnificence of 
the sovereign. His unworthy favourites, enriched by 
the boundless liberality of their master, usurped with 
impunity the privilege of rapine and corruption. A 
secret but universal decay was felt in every part of the 
public administration, and the emperor himself, though 
he still retained the obedience, gradually lost the 
esteem, of his subjects. The dress and manners, which, 
towards the decline of life, he chose to affect, served 
only to degrade him in the eyes of mankind. The 
Asiatic pomp, which had been adopted by the pride of 
Diocletian, assumed an air of softness and effeminacy 
in the person of Constautine. He is represented with 
false hair of various colours, laboriously arranged by 
the skilful artists of the times ; a diadem of a new and 
more expensive fashion ; a profusion of gems and 
pearls, of collars and bracelets, and a variegated flowing 
robe of silk, most curiously embroidered with flowers 
of gold. In such apparel, scarcely to be excused by 
the youth and folly of Elagabalus, we are at a loss 
to discover the wisdom of an aged monarch and the 
simplicity of a Roman veteran.^ A mind thus relajced 
by prosp.eritY-A nd indulgence was _iiic ap?iblft of rising 
to that magnanimityL-W-liich -disdains suspicion and 
dares to forgive. The deaths of Maximian and Liciuius 
may perhaps be justified by the maxims of policy, as 
they are taught in the schools of tyrants ; but an im- 
partial narrative of the executions, or rather murders, 
which sullied the declining age of Constautine, will 
suggest to our most candid thoughts the idea of a 
prince who could sacrifice without reluctance the laws 
of justice and the feelings of nature to the dictates 
either of his passions or of his interest. 

2 Julian, in the Caesars, attempts to ridicule his uncle. His 
suspicious testimony is confirmed however by the learned 
Spanheim, with the authority of medals. Eusebms (Orat. c. 
S) alleges that Constantine dressed for the public, not for 
himself. Were this admitted, the vainest coxcomb could 
never want an excuse. 

323-337 OF THE ROxMAN EMPIRE 233 

The same fortune which so invariably followed the 
standard of Constantine seemed to secure the hopes 
and comforts of his domestic life. Those among Ids 
predecessors who had enjoyed the longest and most 
prosperous reigns,, Augustus^ Trajan, and Diocletian, 
had been disappointed of posterity ; and the frequent 
revolutions had never allowed sufficient time for any 
Imperial family to grow up and multiply under the 
shade of the purple. But the royalty of the Flavian 
line, which had been first ennobled by the Gothic 
Claudius, descended through several generations ; and 
Constantine himself derived from his royal father 
the hereditary honours which he transmitted to his 
children. The emperor had been twice married. 
Minervina, the obscure but lawful object of his youth- 
ful attachment/ had ieft him only one son, who was 
called Crispus. By Fausta, the daughter of Maximian, 
he had three daughters, and three sons, known by 
the kindred names of Constantine, Constantius, and 
Constans. The unambitious brothers of the great 
Constantine, Julius Constantius, Dalmatius, and 
Hannibalianus,'* were permitted to enjoy the most 
lionourable rank, and the most affluent fortune, that 
could be consistent with a private station. The 
youngest of the three lived without a name, and died 
without posterity. His two elder brothers obtained in 
marriage the daughters of wealtliy senators, and pro- 
pagated new branches of the Imperial race. Gallus 
and Julian afterwards became the most illustrious of 
the children of Julius Constantius, the Patrician. 
The two sons of Dalmatius, who had been decorated 
with the vain title of censor^ were named Dalmatius 
and Hannibalianus. The two sisters of the great 

s Zosimus and Zonaras agree in representing Minervina as 
the concubine of Constantine : but Ducange has very gallantly 
rescued her character, by producing a decisive passage from 
one of the panegyrics, 

4 Ducange (Familise Byzantinae, p, 44) bestows on him, 
after Zonaras, the name of Constantine ; a name somewhat 
unlikely, as it was already occupied by the elder brother, 

VOL. II. H 2 


Constantine, Anastasia and Eutropia, were bestowed 
on Optatus and Nepotianus, two senators of noble 
birth and of consular dignity. His third sister, Cou- 
stantia, was distinguished by her pre-eminence of 
greatness and of misery. She remained the widow of 
the vanquished Licinius ; and it was by her entreaties 
that an innocent boy, the offspring of their marriage, 
preserved for some time, his life, the title of Caesar, 
and a precarious hope of the succession. Besides the 
females and the allies of the Flavian house, ten or 
twelve males, to whom the language of modern courts 
would apply the title of princes of the blood, seemed, 
according to the order of their birth, to be destined 
either to inherit or to support the throne of Constan- 
tine. But in less than thirty years, this numerous 
and increasing family was reduced to the persons of 
Constantius and Julian, who alone had survived a 
series of crimes and calamities, such as the tragic poets 
have deplored in the devoted lines of Pelops and of 

Crispus, the eldest son of Constantine, and the pre- 
sumptive heir of the empire, is represented by impartial 
historians as an amiable and accomplished youth. The 
care of his education, or at least of his studies, was 
entrusted to Lactantius, the most eloquent of the 
Christians ; a prieceptor admirably qualified to form 
the taste, and to excite the virtues, of his illustrious 
disciple.^ At the age of seventeen, Crispus was in- 
vested with the title of Caesar, and the administration 
of the Gallic provinces, where the inroads of the 
Germans gave him an early occasion of signalising his 
military prowess. In the civil war which broke out 
soon afterwards, the father and son divided their 
powers ; and this history has already celebrated the 
valour as well as conduct displayed by the latter in 
forcing the straits of the Hellespont, so obstinately 
defended by the superior fleet of Licinius. This 

5 Jerom. in Chron. The poverty of Lactamius may be 
applied either to the praise of the disinterestedjphilosopher or to 
the shame of the unfeeling patron. 


naval victory contributed to determine the event of 
the war ; and the names of Constantine and of Crispus 
were united in the joyful acclamations of their eastern 
subjects : who loudly proclaimed that the world had 
been subdued^ and was now governed, by an emperor 
endowed with every virtue; and by his illustrious son, 
a prince beloved of heaven, and the lively image of 
his father's perfections. The public favour, which 
seldom accompanies old age, diffused its lustre over 
the youth of Crispus. He deserved the esteem, and 
he engaged the affections, of the court, the army, and 
the people. The experienced merit of a reigning 
monarch is acknowledged by his subjects with reluc- 
tance, and frequently denied with partial and discon- 
tented murmurs; while, from the opening virtues of 
his successor, they fondly conceive the roost unbounded 
hopes of private as well as public felicity. 

This dangerous popularity soon excited the attention 
of Constantine, who, both as a father and as a king, 
was impatient of an equal. Instead of attempting to 
secure the allegiance of his son, by the generous ties 
of confidence and gratitude, he resolved to prevent the 
mischiefs which might be apprehended from dissatisfied 
ambition. Crispus soon had reason to complain that, 
while his infant brother Constantius was sent, with the 
title of Csesar, to reign over his peculiar department of 
the Gallic provinces, he, a prince of mature years, who 
had performed such recent and signal services, instead 
of being raised to the superior rank of Augustus, was 
confined almost a prisoner to his father's court ; and 
exposed, without power or defence, to every calumny 
which the malice of his enemies could suggest. Under 
such painful circumstances, the royal youth might not 
always be able to compose his behaviour, or suppress 
his discontent ; and we may be assured that he was 
encompassed by a train of indiscreet or perfidious 
followers, who assiduously studied to inflame, and who 
were perhaps instructed to betray, the unguarded 
warmth of his resentment. An edict of Constantine, 
published about this time, manifestly indicates his real 


or affected suspicions that a secret conspiracy had been 
formed against his person and government. By all 
the allurements of honours and rewards, he invites 
informers of every degree to accuse without exception 
his magistrates or ministers, his friends or his most 
intimate favourites, protesting, with a solemn assevera- 
tion, that he himself will listen to the charge, that he 
himself will revenge his injuries ; and concluding with 
a prayer, which discovers some apprehension of danger, 
that the providence of the Supreme Being may still 
continue to protect the safety of the emperor and of 
the empire. 

The informers, who complied with so liberal an 
invitation, were sufficiently versed in the arts of coui-ts 
to select the friends and adherents of Crispus as the 
guilty persons ; nor is there any reason to distrust the 
veracity of the emperor, who had promised an ample 
measure of revenge and punishment. The policy of 
Constantino maintained, however, the same appearances 
of regard and confidence towards a son whom he began 
to consider as his most irreconcilable enemy. Medals 
were struck with the customary vows for the long and 
auspicious reign of the young Caesar ; and as the people, 
who was not admitted into the secrets of the palace, 
still loved his virtues and respected his dignity, a poet 
who solicits his recall from exile, adores with equal 
devotion the majesty of the father and that of the 
son.'' The time was now arrived for celebrating the 
august ceremony of the twentieth year of the reign of 
Constantino ; and the emperor, for that purpose, re- 
moved his court from Nicomedia to Rome, where the 
most splendid preparations had been made for his 
reception. Every eye and every tongue affected to 
express their sense of the general happiness, and the 
veil of ceremony and dissimulation was drawn for a 
while over the darkest designs of revenge and murder. 
In the midst of the festival, the unfortunate Crispus 
was apprehended by order of the emperor, who laid 

6 His name was Porphyrius Optatianus. 

325-826 OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE 237 

aside the tenderness of a father, without assuming the 
equity of a judge. The examination was short and 
private ; and, as it was thought decent to conceal the 
fate of the young prince from the eyes of the Roman 
people, he was sent under a strong guard to Pola, in 
Istria, where, soon afterwards, he was put to death, 
either by the hand of the executioner or by the more 
gentle operation of poison. The Csesar Licinius, a 
youth of amiable manners, was involved in the ruin of 
Crispus ; and the stern jealousy of Constantine was 
unmoved by the prayers and tears of his favourite 
sister, pleading for the life of a son, whose rank was his 
only crime, and whose loss she did not long survive. 
The story of these unhappy princes, the nature and 
evidence of their guilt, the forms of their trial, and 
the circumstances of their death, were buried in mys- 
terious obscurity ; and the courtly bishop, who has 
celebrated in an elaborate work the virtues and piety 
of his hero, observes a prudent silence on the subject 
of these tragic events.'^ Such haughty contempt for 
the opinion of mankind, whilst it imprints an indelible 
stain on the memory of Constantine, must remind us 
of the very different behaviour of one of the greatest 
monarchs of the present age. The Czar Peter, in the 
full possession of despotic power, submitted to the 
judgment of Russia, of Europe, and of posterity, the 
reasons which had compelled him to subscribe to the 
condemnation of a criminal, or at least of a degene- 
rate, son. 

The innocence of Crispus was so universally acknow- 
ledged that the modern Greeks, who adore the memory 
of their founder, are reduced to palliate the guilt of a 
parricide, which the common feelings of human nature 
forbade them to justify. They pretend that, as soon 
as the afflicted father discovered the falsehood of the 
accusation by which his credulity had been so fatally 

7 Two hundred and fifty years afterwards, Evagrius (1. iii. c. 
41) deduced from the silence of Eusebius a vain argument 
against the reality of the fact. 


misled, he published to the world his repentance and 
remorse ; that he mourned forty days, during which 
he abstained from the use of the bath and all the 
ordinary comforts of life ; and that, for the lasting 
instruction of posterity, he erected a golden statue of 
Crispus, with this memorable inscription : To anr Son, 
so interesting would deserve to be supported by less 
exceptionable authority ; but, if we consult the more 
ancient and authentic writers, they will inform us that 
the repentance of Constantino was manifested only in 
acts of blood and revenge ; and that he atoned for the 
murder of an innocent son, by the execution, perhaps, 
of a guilty wife. They ascribe the misfortunes of 
Crispus to the arts of his stepmother Fausta, whose 
implacable hatred, or whose disappointed love, renewed 
in the palace of Constantine the ancient tragedy of 
Fiippolytus and of Phaedra.^ Like the daughter of 
Minos, the daughter of Maximian accused her son-in- 
law of an incestuous attempt on the chastity of his 
father's wife ; and easily obtained, from the jealousy 
of the emperor, a sentence of death against a young 
prince whom she considered with reason as the most 
formidable rival of her own children. But Helena, 
the aged mother of Constantine, lamented and revenged 
the untimely fate of her grandson Crispus ; nor was it 
long before a real or pretended discovery was made, 
that Fausta herself entertained a criminal connection 
with a slave belonging to the Imperial stables. ^^ Her 

8 In order to prove that the statue was erected by Constan- 
tine, and afterwards concealed by the malice of the Arians. 
Codinus very readily creates (p. 34) two witnesses, Hippolytus 
and the younger Herodotus, to whose imaginary histories he 
appeals with unblushing confidence. 

8 Zosimus (1. ii. p. 103) may be considered as our 
original. The ingenuity of the moderns, assisted by a few 
hints from the ancients, has illustrated and improved his 
obscure and imperfect narrative. 

^^ Philostorgius, 1. ii. c. 4. Zosimus (1. ii. p. 104, 116) im- 
putes to Constantine the death of two wives: of the innocent 
Fausta, and of an adulteress who was the mother of his three 

323-337 OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE 230 

condemnation and punishment were the instant con- 
sequences of the charg-e ; and the adulteress was suflro- 
cated by the steam of a bath^ which^ for that purpose, 
had been heated to an extraordinary degree. ^^ By 
some it will perhaps be thought, that the remembrance 
of a conjugal union of twenty years, and the honour 
of their common offspring, the destined heirs of the 
throne, might have softened the obdurate heart of 
Constantine ; and persuaded him to suffer his wife, 
however guilty she might appear, to expiate her 
offences in a solitary prison. But it seems a super- 
fluous labour to weigh the propriety, unless we could 
ascertain the truth, of this singular event ; which is 
attended with some circumstances of doubt and per- 
plexity. Those who have attacked, and those who 
have defended, the character of Constantine have 
alike disregarded two very remarkable passages of 
two orations pronounced under the succeeding reign. 
The former celebrates the virtues, the beauty, and the 
fortune of the empress Fausta, the daughter, wife, 
sister, and mother of so many princes. ^^ The latter 
asserts, in explicit terms, that the mother of the 
younger Constantine, who was slain three years after 
his father's death, survived to weep over the fate of 
her son. Notwithstanding the positive testimony of 

successors. According to Jerom, three or four years elapsed 
between the death of Crispus and that of Fausta. The elder 
Victor is prudently silent. 

11 If Fausta was put to death, it is reasonable to believe that 
the private apartments of the palace were the scene of her 
execution. The orator Chrysostom indulges his fancy by ex- 
posing the naked empress on a desert mountain, to be devoured 
by wild beasts. 

12 Julian. Orat. i. He seems to call her the mother 
of Crispus. She might assume that title by adoption. 
At least, she was not considered as his mortal enemy. 
Julian compares the fortune of Fausta with that of Parysatis, 
the Persian queen. A Roman would have more naturally 
recollected the second Agrippina : — 

Et moi, qui sur le trone ai suivi mes ancetres : 
Moi, fille, femme, soeur et m^re de vos maitres. 


several writers of the Pa^an as well as of the Christian 
religion, there may still remain some reason to believe, 
or at least to suspect, that Fausta escaped the blind 
and suspicious cruelty of her husband. The deaths of 
a son, and of a nephew, with the execution of a great 
number of respectable and perhaps innocent friends, 
who were involved in their fall, may be sufficient, 
however, to justify the discontent of the Roman people, 
and to explain the satirical verses affixed to the palace- 
gate, comparing the splendid and bloody reigns of 
Constantine and Nero. 

By the death of Crispus, the inheritance of the 
empire seemed to devolve on the three sons of Fausta, 
who have been already mentioned under the names of 
Constantine, of Constantius, and of Constans. These 
young princes were successively invested with the title 
of Caesar ; and the dates of their promotion may be 
referred to the tenth, the twentieth, and the thirtieth 
years of the reign of their father. This conduct, 
though it tended to multiply the future masters of 
the Roman world, might be excused by the partiality 
of paternal affection ; but it is not easy to understand 
the motives of the emperor, when he endangered the 
safety both of his family and of his people, by the 
unnecessary elevation of his two nephews, Dalmatius 
and Hannibalianus. The former was raised, by the 
title of Caesar, to an equality with his cousins. In 
favour of the latter, Constantine invented the new 
and singular appellation of Xobilissimus ;^^ to which 
he annexed the flattering distinction of a robe of 
purple and gold. But of the whole series of Roman 
princes in any age of the empire, Hannibalianus alone 
was distinguished by the title of King ; a name which 
the subjects of Tiberius would have detested, as the 
profane and cruel insult of capricious tyranny. The 
use of such a title, even as it appears under the reign 
of Constantine, is a strange and unconnected fact, 

13 Under the predecessors of Constantine, Nobilissimus was 
a vague epithet rather than a legal and determined title. 

323-837 OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE 241 

which can scarcely he admitted on the joint authority 
of imperial medals and contemporary writers. 

The whole empire was deeply interested in the edu- 
cation of these live youths, the acknowledged successors 
of Constantine. The exercises of the body prepared 
them for the fatigues of war and the duties of active 
life. Those who occasionally mention the education 
or talents of Constantius allow that he excelled in the 
gymnastic arts of leaping and running ; that he was 
a dexterous archer, a skilful horseman, and a master 
of all the different weapons used in the service either 
of the cavalry or of the infantry. The same assiduous 
cultivation was bestowed, though not perhaps with 
equal success, to improve the minds of the sons and 
nephews of Constantine.^^ The most celebrated pro- 
fessors of the Christian faith, of the Grecian philosophy, 
and of the Roman jurisprudence were invited by the 
liberality of the emperor, who reserved for himself the 
important task of instructing the royal youths in the 
science of government and the knowledge of mankind. 
But the genius of Constantine himself had been fom:ied 
by adversity and experience. In the free intercourse 
of private life, and amidst the dangers of the court 
of Galerius, he had learned to command his own 
passions, to encounter those of his equals, and to de- 
pend for his present safety and future greatness on 
the prudence and firmness of his personal conduct. 
His destined successors had the misfortune of being 
born and educated in the Imperial purple. Incessantly 
surrounded with a train of flatterers, they passed their 
youth in the enjoyment of luxury and the expectation 
of a throne ; nor would the dignity of their rank per- 
mit them to descend from that elevated station from 
whence the various characters of human nature appear 
to wear a smooth and uniform aspect. The indulgence 
of Constantine admitted them at a very tender age 
to share the administration of the empire : and they 

!■* Constantius studied with laudable diligence ; but the 
dulness of his fancy prevented him from succeeding in the 
art of poetry, or even of rhetoric. 


studied the art of reigning at the expense of the people 
entrusted to their care. The younger Constantine 
was appointed to hold his court in Gaul ; and his 
brother Constautius exchanged that department, the 
ancient patrimony of their father, for the more opulent, 
but less martial, countries of the East. Italy, the 
Western IlljTicum, and Africa were accustomed to 
revere Constans, the third of his sons, as the represen- 
tative of the great Constantine. He fixed Dalmatius 
on the Gothic frontier, to which he annexed the 
government of Thrace, Macedonia, and Greece. The 
city of Caesarea was chosen for the residence of 
Hannibalianus ; and the provinces of Pontus, Cappa- 
docia, and the Lesser Armenia were destined to form 
the extent of his new kingdom. For each of these 
princes a suitable establishment was provided. A just 
proportion of guards, of legions, and of auxiliaries was 
allotted for their respective dignity and defence. The 
ministers and generals who were placed about their 
persons were such as Constantine could trust to assist, 
and even to control, these youthful sovereigns in the 
exercise of their delegated power. As they advanced 
in years and experience, the limits of their authority 
were insensibly enlarged : but the emperor always re- 
served for himself the title of Augustus ; and, while 
he showed the Ccesnrs to the armies and provinces, he 
maintained every part of the empire in equal obedience 
to its supreme head.^^ The tranquillity of the last 
fourteen years of his reign was scarcely interrupted by 
the contemptible insurrection of a camel-driver in the 
island of Cyprus/^ or by the active part which the policy 
of Constantine engaged him to assume in the wars of 
the Goths and Sarmatians. 

15 Eusebius, with a design of exalting the authority and glory 
of Constantine, affirms that he divided the Roman empire as 
a private citizen might have divided his patrimony. His 
distribution of the provinces may be collected from Eutropius, 
the two Victors, and the Valesian fragment. 

18 Calocerus, the obscure leader of this rebellion, or rather 
tumult, was apprehended and burnt alive in the market-place 
of Tarsus, by the vigilance of Dalmatius. 


Among: the different branches of the human race, 
the Sarmatians form a very remarkable shade ; as they 
seem to unite the manners of the Asiatic barbarians 
with the figure and complexion of the ancient inhabi- 
tants of Europe. According to the various accidents 
of peace and war, of alliance or conquest, the Sarmatians 
were sometimes confined to the banks of the Tanais ; 
and they sometimes spread themselves over the immense 
plains which lie between the Vistula and the Volga. 
The care of their numerous flocks and herds, the 
pursuit of game, and the exercise of war, or rather of 
rapine, directed the vagrant motions of the Sarmatians. 
The moveable camps or cities, the ordinary residence 
of their wives and children, consisted only of large 
waggons, drawn by oxen and covered in the form of 
tents. The military strength of the nation was com- 
posed of cavalry ; and the custom of their warriors, to 
lead in their hand one or two spare horses, enabled 
them to advance and to retreat with a rapid diligence 
which surprised the security, and eluded the pursuit, 
of a distant enemy. Their poverty of iron prompted 
their rude industry to invent a sort of cuirass, which 
was capable of resisting a sword or javelin, though it 
was formed only of horses' hoofs, cut into thin and 
polished slices, carefully laid over each other in the 
manner of scales or feathers, and strongly sewed upon 
an under-garment of coarse linen. ^" The offensive 
arms of the Sarmatians were short daggers, long lances, 
and a weighty bow with a quiver of arrows, lliey 
were reduced to the necessity of employing fish bones 
for the points of their weapons ; but the custom of 
dipping them in a venomous liquor that poisoned the 
wounds which they inflicted is alone suflScient to prove 
the most savage manners ; since a people impressed 
with a sense of humanity would have abhorred so cruel 
a practice, and a nation skilled in the arts of war 

17 Pausanias, 1. i. p. 50, edit. Kuhn. That inquisitive 
traveller had carefully examined a Sarmatian cuirass, which 
was preserved in the temple of ^Esculapius at Athens. 


would have disdained so impotent a resource.^ When- 
ever these Barbarians issued from their deserts in 
quest of prey, their shaggy beards^ uncombed locks, 
the furs with which they were covered from head to 
foot, and their fierce countenances, which seemed 
to express the innate cruelty of their minds, inspired 
the more civilised provincials of Rome with horror and 

The tender Ovid, after a youth spent in the enjoy- 
ment of fame and luxury, was condemned to an hope- 
less exile on the frozen banks of the Danube, where he 
was exposed, almost without defence, to the fury of 
these monsters of the desert, with whose stern spirits 
he feared that his gentle shade might hereafter be 
confounded. In his pathetic, but sometimes unmanly, 
lamentations,^^ he describes, in the most lively colours, 
the dress and manners, the arms and inroads of the 
Getae and Sarmatians, who were associated for the 
purposes of destruction ; and from the accounts of 
history there is some reason to believe that these 
Sarmatians were the Jazygie, one of the most numerous 
and warlike tribes of the nation. The allurements of 
plenty engaged them to seek a permanent establish- 
ment on the frontiers of the empire. Soon after the 
reign of Augustus, they obliged the Dacians, who 
subsisted by fishing on the banks of the river Theiss or 

18 Aspicis et mitti sub adunco toxica ferro, 
Et lelum causas mortis habere duas. 

Ovid, ex Ponto, 1. iv. ep. 7, ver. 7. 
See in the Recherches sur les Am^ricains, torn. ii. pp. 236-271, 
a very curious dissertation on poisoned darts. The venom was 
commonly extracted from the vegetable reign ; but that em- 
ployed by the Scythians appears to have been drawn from the 
viper and a mixture of human blood. The use of poisoned 
arms, which has been spread over both worlds, never preserved 
a savage tribe from the arms of a disciplined enemy. 

19 The nine books of Poetical Epistles, which Ovid composed 
during the seven first years of his melancholy exile, possess, 
besides the merit of elegance, a double value. They exhibit 
a picture of the human mind under very singular circumstances ; 
and ihey contain many curious observations, which no Roman, 
except Ovid, could have an opportunity of making. 



Tibiscus, to retire into the hilly country, and to 
abandon to the victorious Sarmatians the fertile plains 
of the Upper Hung-ary, which are bounded by the 
course of the Danube and the semi-circular inclosure 
of the Carpathian mountains. 20 In this advantageous 
position, they watched or suspended the moment of 
attack, as they were provoked by injuries or appeased 
by presents ; they gradually acquired the skill of using 
more dangerous weapons ; and, although the Sar- 
matians did not illustrate their name by any memor- 
able exploits, they occasionally assisted their eastern 
and western neighbours, the Goths and the Germans, 
with a formidable body of cavalry. They lived under 
the irregular aristocracy of their chieftians ; but, after 
they had received into their bosom the fugitive Vandals, 
who yielded to the pressure of the Gothic power, they 
seem to have chosen a king from that nation, and from 
the illustrious race of the Astingi, who had formerly 
dwelt on the shores of the Northern ocean. ^^ 

This motive of enmity must have inflamed the 
subjects of contention, which perpetually arise on 
the confines of warlike and independent nations. The 
Vandal princes were stimulated by fear and revenge ; 
the Gothic kings aspired to extend their dominion 
from the Euxine to the frontiers of Germany : and 
the waters of the Maros, a small river which falls into 
the Theiss, were stained with the blood of the con- 
tending Barbarians. After some experience of the 
superior strength and number of their adversaries, the 
Sarmatians implored the protection of the Roman 

20 The Sarmatians Jazygae were settled on the banks of the 
Pathissus or Tibiscus, when Pliny, in the year 79, published his 
Natural History, In the time of Strabo and Ovid, sixty or 
seventy years before, they appear to have inhabited beyond the 
Getas, along the coast of the Euxine. 

21 This hypothesis of a Vandal king reigning over Sarmatian 
subjects seems necessary to reconcile the Goth Jornandes with 
the Greek and Latin historians of Constantine. It may be 
observed that Isidore, who lived in Spain under the dominion 
of the Goths, gives them for enemies, not the Vandals, but 
the Sarmatians. 


monarch, wlio beheld with pleasure the discord of the 
nations, but who was justly alarmed by the progress of 
the Gothic arms. As soon as Constantine had declared 
himself in favour of the weaker party, the haughty 
Araric, king of the Goths, instead of expecting the 
attack of the legions, boldly passed the Danube, and 
spread terror and devastation through the province of 
Maesia. To oppose the inroad of this destroying host, 
the aged emperor took the field in person ; but on 
this occasion either his conduct or his fortune betrayed 
the glory which he had acquired in so many foreign and 
domestic wars. He had the mortification of seeing his 
troops fly before an inconsiderable detachment of the 
Barbarians, who pursued them to the edge of their 
fortified camp and obliged him to consult his safety by 
a precipitate and ignominious retreat. The event of 
a second and more successful action retrieved the 
honour of the Roman name ; and the powers of art 
and discipline prevailed, after an obstinate contest, 
over the efforts of irregular valour. The broken 
army of the Goths abandoned the field of battle, the 
wasted province, and the passage of the Danube : and, 
although the eldest of the sons of Constantine was 
permitted to supply the place of his father, the merit 
of the victory, which diffused universal joy, was 
ascribed to the auspicious counsels of the emperor 

He contributed at least to improve this advantage, 
by his negotiations with the free and warlike people of 
Chersonesus,22 whose capital, situate on the western 
coast of the Tauric or Crimaean peninsula, still retained 

22 I may stand in need of some apology for having used, 
■without scruple, the authority of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, 
in all that relates to the wars and negotiations of the 
Chersonites. I am aware that he was a Greek of the tenth 
century, and that his accounts of ancient history are frequently 
confused and fabulous. But on this occasion his narrative is, 
for the most part, consistent and probable ; nor is there much 
difficulty in conceiving that an emperor might have access 
to some secret archives, which had escaped the diligence of 
meaner historians. 

332-334 OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE 247 

some vestiges of a Grecian colony, and was governed 
by a perpetual magistrate, assisted by a council of 
senators, emphatically styled the Fathers of the City. 
The Chersonites were animated against the Goths by 
the memory of the wars which, in the preceding 
century, they had maintained with unequal forces 
against the invaders of their country. They were 
connected with the Romans by the mutual benefits of 
commerce ; as they were supplied from the provinces 
of Asia with corn and manufactures, which they 
purchased with their only productions, salt, wax, and 
hides. Obedient to the requisition of Constautine, 
they prepared, under the conduct of their magistrate 
Diogenes, a considerable army, of which the principal 
strength consisted in crossbows and military chariots. 
The speedy march and intrepid attack of the Cher- 
sonites, by diverting the attention of the Goths, assisted 
the operations of the imperial generals. The Goths, 
vanquished on every side, were driven into the moun- 
tains, where, in the course of a severe campaign, above 
an hundred thousand were computed to have perished 
by cold and hunger. Peace was at length granted to 
their humble supplications ; the eldest son of Araric 
was accepted as the most valuable hostage ; and Con- 
stantine endeavoured to convince their chiefs, by a 
liberal distribution of honours and rewards, how far 
the friendship of the Romans was preferable to their 
enmity. In the expressions of his gratitude towards 
the faithful Chersonites, the emperor was still more 
magnificent. The pride of the nation was gratified by 
the splendid and almost royal decorations bestowed 
on their magistrate and his successors. A perpetual 
exemption from all duties was stipulated for their 
vessels which traded to the ports of the Black Sea. A 
regular subsidy was promised, of iron, corn, oil, and 
of every supply which could be useful either in peace 
or war. But it was thought that the Sarmatiaus were 
sufficiently rewarded by their deliverance from impend- 
ing ruin ; and the emperor, perhaps with too strict 
an economy, deducted some part of the expenses of 


the war from the customary gratifications which were 
allowed to that turbulent nation. 

Exasperated by this apparent neglect, the Samatians 
soon forgot, with the levity of Barbarians, the services 
which they had so lately received and the dangers 
which still threatened their safety. Ilieir inroads on 
the territory of the empire provoked the indignation 
of Constantine to leave them to their fate, and he no 
longer opposed the ambition of Geberic, a renowned 
warrior, who had recently ascended the Gothic throne. 
Wisumar, the Vandal king, whilst alone and unassisted 
he defended his dominions with undaunted courage, was 
vanquished and slain in a decisive battle, which swept 
away the flower of the Sarmatian youth. The re- 
mainder of the nation embraced the desperate ex- 
pedient of arming their slaves, a hardy race of hunters 
and herdsmen, by whose tumultuary aid they revenged 
their defeat and expelled the invader from their 
confines. But they soon discovered that they had 
exchanged a foreign for a domestic enemy, more 
dangerous and more implacable. Enraged by their 
former servitude, elated by their present glory, the 
slaves, under the name of Limigantes, claimed and 
usurped the possession of the country which they had 
saved. Their masters, unable to withstand the un- 
governed fury of the populace, preferred the hardships 
of exile to the tyranny of their servants. Some of the 
fugitive Sarmatians solicited a less ignominious de- 
pendence, under the hostile standard of the Goths. 
A more numerous band retired beyond the Carpathian 
mountains, among the Quadi, their German allies, 
and were easily admitted to share a superfluous waste 
of uncultivated land. But the far greater part of the 
distressed nation turned their eyes towards the fruitful 
provinces of Rome. Imploring the protection and 
forgiveness of the emperor, they solemnly promised, 
as subjects in peace and as soldiers in war, the most 
inviolable fidelity to the empire which should graciously 
receive them into its bosom. According to the maxims 


adopted by Probus and his successors, the offers of this 
Barbarian colony were eagerly accepted ; and a com- 
petent portion of lands, in the provinces of Pannonia, 
Thrace, Macedonia, and Italy, were immediately as- 
signed for the habitation and subsistence of three 
hundred thousand Sarmatians. 

By chastising the pride of the Goths, and by accept- 
ing the homage of a suppliant nation, Constantine 
asserted the majesty of the Roman empire ; and the 
ambassadors of ^Ethiopia, Persia and the most remote 
countries of India congratulated the peace and pros- 
perity of his government.^ If he reckoned, among 
the favours of fortune, the death of his eldest son, of 
his nephew, and perhaps of his wife, he enjoyed an 
uninterrupted flow of private as well as public felicity, 
till the thirtieth year of his reign ; a period which 
none of his predecessors, since Augustus, had been 
permitted to celebrate. Constantine survived that 
solemn festival about ten months ; and, at the mature 
age of sixty-four, after a short illness, he ended his 
memorable life at the palace of Aquyrion, in the 
suburbs of Nicomedia, whither he had retired for the 
benefit of the air, and with the hope of recruiting his 
exhausted strength by the use of the warm baths. 
The excessive demonstrations of grief, or at least 
of mourning, surpassed whatever had been practised 
on any former occasion. Notwithstanding the claims 
of the senate and people of ancient Rome, the corpse 
of the deceased emperor, according to his last request, 
was transported to the city which was destined to 
preserve the name and memory of its founder. The 
body of Constantine, adorned with the vain symbols 

23 Eusebius (in Vit. Const. 1. iv. c. 50) remarks three circum- 
stances relative to these Indians. i. They came from the 
shores of the eastern ocean ; a description which might be 
applied to the coast of China or Coromandel. 2. They pre- 
sented shining gems, and unknown animals. 3. They protested 
their kings had erected statues to represent the supreme 
majesty of Constantine. 


of greatness, the purple and diadem, was deposited on 
a g-olden bed in one or the apartments of the palace, 
which for that purpose had been splendidly furnished 
and illuminated. The forms of the court were strictly 
maintained. Every day, at the appointed hours, the 
principal officers of the state, the army, and the house- 
hold, approaching: the person of their so^^ereign with 
bended .knees and a composed countenance, offered 
their respectful homage as seriously as if he had been 
still alive. From motives of policy, this theatrical 
representation was for some time continued ; nor 
could flattery neglect the opportunity of remarking 
that Constantino a] one, by the peculiar indulgence of 
heaven, had reigned after his death. ^^ 

But this reign could subsist only in empty pageantry ; 
and it was soon discovered that the will of the most 
absolute monarch is seldom obeyed, when his subjects 
have no longer anything to hope from his favour, or 
to dread from his resentment. The same ministers 
and generals who bowed with such reverential awe 
}>efor6 the inanimate corpse of their deceased sovereign 
were engaged in secret consultations to exclude his 
two nephews, Dalmatius and Hannibalianus, from the 
share which he had assigned them in the succession of 
the empire. We are too imperfectly acquainted with 
the court of Constantine to form any judgment of the 
real motives which influenced the leaders of the con- 
spiracy ; unless we should suppose that they were 
actuated by a spirit of jealousy and revenge against 
the praefect Ablavius, a proud favourite, who had long 
directed the counsels and abused the confidence of the 
late emperor. Tlie arguments by which they solicited 
the concurrence of the soldiers and people are of a 
more obvious nature : and they might with decency, 
as well as truth, insist on the superior rank of the 

24 Constantine had prepared for himself a stately tomb in the 
church of the Holy Apostles. The best, and indeed almost the 
only, account of the sickness, death, and funeral of Constan- 
tine, is contained in the fourth book of his Life, by Eusebius. 


children of Constantine, the danger of multiplying- the 
number of sovereigns, and the impending mischiefs 
which threatened the republic, from the discord of so 
many rival princes, who were not connected by the 
tender sympathy of fraternal affection. The intrigue 
was conducted with zeal and secrecy till a loud and 
unanimous declaration was procured from the troops 
that they would suffer none except the sons of their 
lamented monarch to reign over the Roman empire. 
The younger Dalmatius, who was united with his 
collateral relations by the ties of friendship and 
interest, is allowed to have inherited a considerable 
share of the abilities of the great Constantine ; but, 
on this occasion, he does not appear to have concerted 
any measures for supporting-, by arms, the just claims 
which himself and his ro}al brother derived from the 
liberality of their uncle. Astonished and overwhelmed 
hy the tide of popular fury, they seem to have re- 
mained, without the power of flight or of resistance, 
in the hands of their implacable enemies. Their fate 
was suspended till the arrival of Constantius, the 
second, and perhaps the most favoured, of the sons of 

The voice of the dying emperor had recommended 
the care of his funeral to the piety of Constantius ; 
and that prince, by the vicinity of his eastern station, 
could easily prevent the diligence of his brothers, who 
rosided in their distant government of Italy and Gaul. 
As soon as he had taken possession of the palace of 
Constantinople, his first care was to remove the ap- 
prehensions of his kinsmen by a solemn oath, which 
he pledged for their security. His next employment 
was to find some specious pretence which might 
release his conscience from the obligation of an im- 
prudent promise. The arts of fraud were made 
subservient to the designs of cruelty ; and a manifest 
forgery was attested by a person of the most sacred 
character. From the hands of the bishop of Nicomedia, 
Constantius received a fatal scroll atTirmed to be the 


genuine testament of his father ; in which the emperor 
expressed his suspicions that he had been poisoned by 
his brother ; and conjured his sons to revenge his 
death^ and to consult their own safety by the punish- 
ment of the guilty. ^Fhatever reasons might have 
been alleged by these unfortunate princes to defend 
their life and honour against so incredible an accusa- 
tionj they were silenced by the furious clamours of 
the soldiers, who declared themselves at once their 
enemies, their judges, and their executioners. The 
spirit, and even the forms, of legal proceedings were 
repeatedly violated in a promiscuous massacre ; which 
involved the two uncles of Constantius, seven of his 
cousins, of whom Dalmatius and Hannibalianus were 
the most illustrious, the patrician Optatus, who had 
married a sister of the late emperor, and the praefect 
Ablavius, whose power and riches had inspired him 
with some hopes of obtaining the purple. If it were 
necessary to aggravate the horrors of this bloody scene, 
we might add that Constantius himself had espoused 
the daughter of his uncle Julius, and that he had 
bestowed his sister in marriage on his cousin Hanni- 
balianus. These alliances, which the policy of Con- 
stantine, regardless of the public "^^ prejudice, had 
formed between the several branches of the Imperial 
house, served only to convince mankind that these 
princes were as cold to the endearments of conjugal 
aflfection, as they were insensible to the ties of con- 
sanguinity and the moving entreaties of youth and 
innocence. Of so numerous a family Gallus and Julian 

25 Conjugia sobrinarum diu ignorata, temporie addito percre- 
buisse. Tac. Ann. xii. 6, and Lipsius ad loc. The repeal of 
the ancient law, and the practice of five hundred years, were 
insufficient to eradicate the prejudices of the Romans ; who 
still considered the marriages of cousins-german as a species 
of imperfect incest ; and Julian, whose mind was biassed by 
superstition and resentment, stigmatises these unnatural alliances 
between his own cousins with the opprobrious epithet of ydfiujp 
re ov yd/JLWf. The jurisprudence of the canons has since re- 
vived and enforced this prohibition, without being able to 
introduce it either into the civil or the common law of Europe. 


alone^ the two youngest children of Julius Constantius, 
■were saved from the hands of the assassins^ till their 
rage, satiated with slaughter, had in some measure 
subsided. The emperor Constantius, who, in the 
absence of his brothers, was the most obnoxious to 
guilt and reproach, discovered, on some future occa- 
sions, a faint and transient remorse for those cruel- 
ties, which the perfidious counsels of his ministers 
and the irresistible violence of the troops had extorted 
from his unexperienced youth. ^^ 

The massacre of the Flavian race was succeeded by a 
new division of the provinces ; which was ratified in a 
personal interview of the three brothers. Constantine, 
the eldest of the Csesars, obtained, with a certain pre- 
eminence of rank, the possession of the new capital, 
which bore his own name and that of his father. 
Thrace and the countries of the east were allotted for 
the patrimony of Constantius ; and Constans was ac- 
knowledged as the lawful sovereign of Italy, Africa, 
and the western Illyricum. The armies submitted to 
their hereditary right ; and they condescended, after 
some delay, to accept from the Roman Senate the title 
of Augustus. When they first assumed the reins of 
government, the'eldest of these princes was twenty-one, 
the second twenty, and the third only seventeen, years 
of age. 

AVhile the martial nations of Europe followed the 
standards of his brothers, Constantius, at the head of 
the efi"eminate troops of Asia, was left to sustain the 
weight of the Persian war. At the decease of Con- 
stantine, the throne of the east was filled by Sapor, 
son of Hormouz or Hormisdas, and grandson of Narses, 
who, after the victory of Galerius, had humbly con- 

2^ Julian charges his cousin Constantius with the whole 
guilt of a massacre from which he himself so narrowly escaped. 
His assertion is confirmed by Athanasius, who, for reasons of 
a very different nature, was not less an enemy of Constantius 
(torn. i. p. 856). Zosimus joins in the same accusation. 
But the three abbreviators, Eutropius and the Victors, use- 
very qualifying expressions; " sinente potius quam jubente ; " 
" incertum quo suasore ; " " vi militum." 


fessed the superiority of the Roman power. Although 
iSapor was in the thirtieth year of his long reign, he 
was still in the vigour of youth, as the date of his 
accession, by a very strange fatality, had preceded that 
of his birth. The wife of Hormouz remained pregnant 
at the time of her husband's death ; and the uncertainty 
of the sex, as well as of the event, excited the ambitious 
hopes of the princes of the house of Sassan. Tl:e 
ap|)rehensious of civil war were at length removed, by 
the positive assurance of the Magi that the widow of 
Hormouz had conceived, and would safely produce, a 
son. Obedient to the voice of superstition, the Persians 
prepared, without delay, the ceremony of his coronation. 
A royal bed, on which the queen lay in state, was 
exhibited in the midst of the palace ; the diadem was 
placed on the spot which might be supposed to conceal 
the future heir of Artaxerxes, and the prostrate Satraps 
adored the majesty of their invisible and insensible 
sovereign."-^ If any credit can be given to this mar- 
vellous tale, which seems however to be countenanced 
by the manners of the people and by the extraordinary 
duration of his reign, we must admire not only the 
fortune, but the genius, of Sapor. In the soft 
sequestered education of a Persian harem, the royal 
youth could discover the importance of exercising the 
vigour of his mind and body ; and, by his personal 
merit, deserved a throne, on which he had been seated 
while he was yet unconscious of the duties and tempta- 
tions of absolute power. His minority was exposed to 
the almost inevitable calamities of domestic discord ; his 
capital was surprised and plundered by Thair, a power- 
ful king of Yemen, or Arabia ; and the majesty of the 
royal family was degraded by the captivity of a princess, 
the sister of the deceased king. But, as soon as Sapor 
attained the age of manhood, the presumptuous Thair, 
his nation, and his country fell beneath the first effort 

• 27 Agathias, who lived in the sixth century, is the author of 
this story. He derived his information from some extracts of 
the Persian Chronicles, obtained and translated by the inter- 
preter Sergius, during his embassy at that court. 


of the young warrior ; who used his victory with so 
judicious a mixture of rigour aiid clemency that he 
obtained from the fears and gratitude of the Arabs the 
title oi Dhoulacnaf, or protector of the nation. 

The ambition of the Persian, to whom his enemies 
ascribe the virtues of a soldier and a statesman^ was 
animated by the desire of revenging the disgrace of his 
fathers, and of wresting from the hands of the Romans 
the five provinces beyond the Tigris. The military 
fame of Constantine^ and the real or apparent strength 
of his government, suspended the attack ; and, while 
the hostile conduct of Sapor provoked the resentment, 
ills artful negotiations amused the patience, of the 
imperial court. The death of Constautine was the 
signal of war,-^ and the actual condition of the Syrian 
and Armenian frontiers seemed to encourage the 
Persians by the prospect of a rich spoil and an easy 
conquest. The example of the massacres of the palace 
diffused a spirit of licentiousness and sedition among 
the troops of the east, who were no longer restrained 
by their habits of obedience to a veteran commander. 
By the prudence of Constantius, who, from the inter- 
view with his brothers in Pannonia, immediately 
hastened to the banks of the Euphrates, the legions 
were gradually restored to a sense of duty and disci- 
pline ; but the season of anarchy had permitted Sapor 
to form the siege of Nisibis, and to occupy several 
of the most important fortresses of Mesopotamia. ^^ In 
Armenia, the renovs-ued Tiridates had long enjoyed the 
peace and glory which he deserved by his valour and 
fidelity to the cause of Rome. The firm alliance which 
he maintained with Constantine was productive of 

28 Sextus Rufus (c. 26), who on this occasion is no con- 
temptible authority, affirms that the Persians sued in vain for 
peace, and that Constantine was preparing to march against 
them : yet the superior weight of the testimony of Eusebius 
obliges us to admit the preliminaries, if not the ratification, of 
the treaty. 

29 From some successes gained possibly in the campaign of 
this year Constantius won the title of Adiabenicus Maximus. 


spiritual as well as of temporal benefits : by the con- 
version of Tiridates, the character of a saint was applied 
to that of a hero_, the Christian faith was preached and 
established from the Euphrates to the shores of the 
Caspian_, and Armenia was attached to the empire by 
the double ties of policy and of religion. But, as many 
of the Armenian nobles still refused to abandon the 
plurality of their gods and of their wives, the public 
tranquillity was disturbed by a discontented faction, 
which insulted the feeble age of their sovereign, and 
impatiently expected the hour of his death. He died 
at length after a reign of fifty-six years, and the fortune 
of the Armenian monarchy expired with Tiridates. 
His lawful heir was driven into exile, the Christian 
priests were either murdered or expelled from their 
churches, the barbarous tribes of Albania were solicited 
to descend from their mountains ; and two of the 
most powerful governors, usurping the ensigns or the 
powers of royalty, implored the assistance of Sapor, 
and opened the gates of their cities to the Persian 
garrisons. The Christian party, under the guidance 
of the Archbishop of Artaxata, the immediate successor 
of St. Gregory the Illuminator, had recourse to the 
piety of Constantius. After the troubles had continued 
about three years, Antiochus, one of the officers of the 
household, executed with success the imperial com- 
mission of restoring Chosroes, the son of Tiridates, to 
the throne of his fathers, of distributing honours and 
rewards among the faithful servants of the house of 
Arsaces, and of proclaiming a general amnesty, which 
was accepted by the greater part of the rebellious 
Satraps. But the Romans derived more honour than 
advantage from this revolution. Chosroes was a prince 
of a puny stature, and a pusillanimous spirit. Unequal 
to the fatigues of war, averse to the society of man- 
kind, he withdrew from his capital to a retired palace, 
which he built on the banks of the river Eleutherus, 
and in the centre of a shady grove ; where he consumed 
his vacant hours in the rural sports of hunting and 
hawking. To secure this inglorious ease, he submitted 


to the conditions of ])eace Avhich Sapor condescended 
to impose ; the payment of an annual tribute, and the 
restitution of the fertile province of Atropatene, which 
the courag-e of Tiridates and the victorious ai-ms of 
Galerius had annexed to the Armenian monarchy. ^^ 

During the long- period of the reign of Constantius, 
the provinces of the east were afflicted by the calamities 
of the Persian war. The irregular incursions of the 
light troops alternately spread terror and devastation 
beyond the Tigris and beyond the Euphrates, from 
the gates of Ctesiphon to those of Antioch ; and this 
active service was performed by the Arabs of the 
desert, who were divided in their interest and affec- 
tions ; some of their independent chiefs being enlisted 
in the party of Sapor, whilst others had engaged their 
doubtful fidelity to the emperor, ^i The more grave 
and important operations of the war were conducted 
with equal vigour ; and the armies of Rome and Persia 
encountered each other in nine bloody fields, in two 
of which Constantius himself commanded in person. 
The event of the day was most commonly adverse to 
the Romans, but in the battle of Singara their im- 
prudent valour had almost achieved a signal and 
decisive victory. The stationary troops of Singara 
retired on the approach of Sapor, who passed tlte 
Tigris over three bridges, and occupied near the village 
of Hilleh an advantageous camp, which, by the labour 
of his numerous pioneers, he surrounded in one day 
with a deep ditch and a lofty rampart. His formidable 

30 The perfect agreement between the vague hints of the con- 
temporary orator and the circumstantial narrative of the national 
historian gives light to the former and weight to the latter. 
For the credit of Moses it may be likewise observed that the 
name of Antiochus is found a few years before in a civil office 
of inferior dignity. 

31 Ammianus (xiv. 4) gives a lively description of the wander- 
ing and predatory life of the Saracens, who stretched from the 
confines of Assyria to the cataracts of the Nile. It appears 
from the adventures of Malchus, which Jerom has related in so 
entertaining a manner, that the high road between Beroea and 
Edessa was infested by these robbers. 



host, when it was drawn out in order of battle, covered 
the banks of the river, the adjacent heights, and the 
whole extent of a plain of above twelve miles, which 
separated the two armies. Both were alike impatient 
to engage ; but the Barbarians, after a slight resistance, 
fled in disorder ; unable to resist, or desirous to weary, 
the strength of the heavy legions, who, fainting u-ith 
heat and thirst, pursued them across thfe plain, and 
cut in pieces a line of cavalry, clothed in complete 
armour, which had been posted before the gates of the 
camp to protect tlieir retreat. Constantius, who was 
hurried along in the pursuit, attempted, without effect, 
to restrain the ardour of his troops, by representing to 
them the dangers of the approaching night and the 
certainty of completing their success with the return 
of day. As they depended much more on their own 
valour than on the experience or the abilities of their 
chief, they silenced by their clamours his timid remon- 
strances ; and rushing with fury to the charge tilled 
up the ditch, broke down the rampart, and dispersed 
themselves through the tents, to recruit their exhausted 
strength and to enjoy the rich harvest of their labours. 
But the prudent Sapor had watched the moment of 
victory. His army, of which the greater part, securely 
posted on the heights, had been spectators of the action, 
advanced in silence, and under the shadow of the night; 
and his Persian archers, guided by the illumination of 
the camp, poured a shower of arrows on a disarmed 
and licentious crowd. The sincerity of history declares 
that the Romans were vanquished with a dreadful 
slaughter, and that the flying remnant of the legions 
was exposed to the most intolerable hardships. Even 
the tenderness of panegyric, confessing that the glory 
of the emperor was sullied by the disobedience of his 
soldiers, chooses to draw a veil over the circumstances 
of this melancholy retreat. Yet one of those venal 
orators, so jealous of the fame of Constantius, relates 
with amazing coolness an act of such incredible cruelty, 
as, in the judgment of posterity, must imprint a far 
deeper stain on the honour of the imperial name. The 

337-360 OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE 259 

son of !>apor, the heir of his crown, had been made a 
captive in the Perbiau camp. The unhappy youth, 
who might have excited the compassion of the most 
savage enemy, was scourged, tortured, and publicly 
executed by the inhuman Romans. 

^Vhatever advantages might attend the arms of 
Sapor in the field, though nine repeated victories 
diffused among the nations the fame of his valour and 
conduct, he could not hope to succeed in the execution 
of his designs, while the fortified towns of Mesopotamia, 
and, above all, the strong and ancient city of Nisibis, 
remained in the possession of the Romans. In the 
space of twelve years, Nisibis, which, since the time of 
Lucullus, had been deservedly esteemed the bulwark 
of the east, sustained three memorable sieges against 
the power of Sapor, and the disappointed monarch, 
after urging his attacks above sixty, eighty, and an 
hundred days, was thrice repulsed with loss and 
ignominy. This large and populous city was situate 
about two days' journey from the Tigris, in the midst 
of a pleasant and fertile plain at the foot of Mount 
Masius. A treble inclosure of brick walls was defended 
by a deep ditch ; ^^ and the intrepid assistance of 
Count Luciliauus and his garrison was seconded by 
the desperate courage of the people. The citizens of 
Nisibis were animated by the exhortations of their 
bishop,^^ enured to arms by the presence of danger, 
and convinced of the intentions of Sapor to plant a 
Persian colony in their room and to lead them away 
into distant and barbarous captivity. The event of 
the two former sieges elated their confidence, and 

32 Nisibis is now reduced to one hundred and fifty houses ; 
the marshy lands produce rice, and the fertile meadows as far 
as Mosul and the Tigris, are covered with the ruins of towns 
and villages. 

23 Tne miracles which Theodoret (1. ii. c. 30) ascribes to St. 
James, Bishop of Edessa, were at least performed in a worthy 
cause, the defence of his country. He appeared on the walls 
under the figure of the Roman emperor, and sent an army of 
gnats to sting the trunks of the elephants, and to discomfit the 
host of the new Senacherib. 


exasperated the haughty spirit of the Great King, who 
advanced a third time towards Nisibis, at the head of 
the united forces of Persia and India. The ordinary 
machines invented to batter or undermine the walls 
were rendered ineffectual by the superior skill of the 
Romans ; and many days had vainly elar.sed, when 
Sapor embraced a resolution, worthy of an eastern 
monarch, who believed that tlie elements themselves 
were subject to his power. At the stated season of the 
melting of the snows in Armenia, the river JMygdonius, 
which divides the plain and the city of Nisibis, forms, 
like the Nile,^'' an inundation over the adjacent countrj-. 
]Jy the labour of the Persians, the course of the river 
was stopped below the town, and the waters were con- 
fined on every side by solid mounds of earth. On this 
artificial lake, a fleet of armed vessels, filled with 
soldiers and with engines which discharged stones of 
five hundred pounds weight, advanced in order of 
battle, and engaged, almost upon a level, the troops 
which defended the ramparts. The irresistible force 
of the waters was alternately fatal to the contending 
parties, till at length a portion of the walls, unable to 
sustain the accumulated pressure, gave way at once, 
and exposed an ample breach of one hundred and fifty 
feet. The Persians were instantly driven to the assault, 
and the fate of Nisibis depended on the event of the 
day. The heavy armed cavalry, who led the van of a 
deep column, were embarrassed in the mud, and great 
numbers were drowned in the unseen holes which had 
been filled by the rushing waters. The elephants, 
made furious by their wounds, increased the disorder, 
and trampled down thousands of the Persian archers. 
Tlie Great King, who, from an exalted throne, beheld 
the misfortunes of his arms, sounded, with relucUintj 

3-1 Julian. Orat. i. p. 27. Though Niebuhr (torn. ii. p. 307) 
allows a very considerable swell to the Mygdonius, over which 
he saw a bridge of twelve arches ; it is difficult, however, tc 
understand this parallel of a trifling rivulet with a mighty river. 
There are many circumstances obscure, and almost unintel 
ligible, in the description of these stupendous water works. 


iudignation, the signal of the retreat, and suspended 
for some hours the prosecution of the attack, liut the 
vigilant citizens improved the opportunity of the night ; 
and the return of day discovered a new wail of six feet 
in height, rising every moment to hll up the interval 
of the breach. Notwithstanding the disappointment 
of his hopes, and the loss of more than twenty thousand 
men, Sapor still pressed the reduction of Nisibis, with 
an obstinate firmness which could ha\e yielded only to 
the necessity of defending the eastern provinces of 
Persia against a formidable invasion of the Massagette. 
Alarmed by this intelligence, he hastily relinquished 
the siege, and marched with rapid diligence from the 
banks of the Tigris to those of the Oxus. The danger 
and difficulties of the Scythian war engaged him soon 
afterwards to conclude, or at least to observe, a truce 
with the Roman emperor, which was equally grateful 
to both princes ; as Constantius himself, after the 
deaths of his two brothers, was involved, by the revolu- 
tions of the westj in a civil contest, which required 
and seemed to exceed the most vigorous exertion of 
his undivided strength. 

After the partition of the emj)ire three years had 
scarcely elapsed, before the sons of Constantine seemed 
impatient to convince mankind that they were incap- 
able of contenting themselves with the dominions which 
they were unqualified to erovern. The eldest of those 
princes soon complained that he was defrauded of his 
just proportion of the spoils of their murdered kins- 
men ; and, though he might yield to the superior 
guilt and merit of Constantius, he exacted from 
Constans the cession of the African provinces, as an 
equivalent for the rich countries of Macedonia and 
Greece, which his brother had acquired by the death 
of Dalmatius, The want of sincerity which Constantine 
experienced in a tedious and fruitless negotiation ex- 
asperated the fierceness of his temper ; and he eagerly 
listened to those favourites who suggested to him that 
his honour, as well as his interest, was concerned in 
the prosecution of the quarrel. At the head of a 


tumultuary band, suited for rapine rather than for 
conquest, he suddenly broke into the dominions of 
Constans, by the way of the Julian Alps, and the 
country round Aquileia felt the first effects of hi« 
resentment. The measures of Constans, who then 
resided in Dacia, were directed with more prudence 
and ability. On the news of his brother's invasion, he 
despatched a select and disciplined body of his lllyrian 
troops, proposing^ to follow them in person with the 
remainder of his forces. But the conduct of his 
lieutenants soon terminated the unnatural contest 
By the artful appearances of flierht, Constantine was 
betrayed into an ambuscade, which had been concealed 
in a wood, where the rash youth, with a few attendants, 
was surprised, surrounded, and slain. His body, after 
it had been found in the obscure stream of the Alsa, 
obtained the honours of an imperial sepulchre ; but his 
provinces transferred their allegiance to the conqueror, 
who, refusing- to admit his elder brother Constantius 
to any share in these new acquisitions, maintained the 
undisputed possession of more than two-thirds of the 
B'.rnan empire.^* 

The fate of Constans himself was delayed about ten 
years longer, and the revenge of his brother's der.;h 
was reserved for the more ignoble hand of a domestic 
traitor. Tlie pernicious tendency of the system intro- 
duced by Constantine was displayed in the feeble 
administration of his sons ; who, by their vices and 
weakness, soon lost the esteem and affections of their 
people. The pride assumed by Constans, from the 
unmerited success of his arms, was rendered more 
contemptible by his want of abilities and application. 
His fond partiality towards some German captives, 
distinguished only by the charms of youth, was an 

35 The causes and the events of this civil war are related with 
much perplexity and contradiction. I have chiefly followed 
Zonaras, and the younger Victor. The monody pronounced 
on the death of Constantine, might have been very instructive ; 
but prudence and false taste engaged the orator to involve him- 
self in vague declamation. 


object of scandal to the people ; ^^ and Magnentius, an 
ambitious soldier, who was himself of barbarian extrac- 
tion, was encouraged by the public discontent to assert 
the honour of the Roman name.^'' The chosen bands 
of Jovians and Herculians^ who acknowledged Mag- 
nentius as their leader^ maintained the most respectable 
and important station in the Imperial camp. The 
friendship of Marcellinus, count of tlie sacred largesses, 
supplied with a liberal hand the means of seduction. 
Tlie soldiers ' were convinced, by the most specious 
arguments, that the republic summoned them to break 
the bonds of hereditary servitude and, by the choic'e of 
an active and vigilant prince, to reward the same 
virtues which had raised the ancestors of the de- 
generate Constans from a private condition to the 
throne of the world. As soon as the conspiracy was 
ripe for execution, Marcellinus, under the pretence 
of celebrating his son's birthday, gave a splendid enter- 
tainment to the illustrious and honourable persons of 
the court of Gaul, which then resided in the city of 
Autun. The intemperance of the feast was artfully 
protracted till a very late houi- of the night ; and the 
unsuspecting guests were tempted to indulge them- 
selves in a dangerous and guilty freedom, of conversa- 
tion. On a sudden the doors were thrown open, and 
Magnentius, who had retired for a. few moments, 
returned into the apartment, invested with the diadem 
and purple. The conspirators instantly saluted him 

36 Quarum {gentium) obsides pretio quaesitos pueros venus- 
tiores, quod ciiltius habuerat, libidine hujusmodi arsisse pro 
certo habetur. Had not the depraved tastes of Constans been 
publicly avowed, the elder Victor, who held a considerable 
office in his brother's reign, would not have asserted it in such 
positive terms. 

37 Victor in Epitome. There is reason to believe that Mag- 
nentius was born in one of those Barbarian Colonies which 
Constantius Chlorus had established in Gaul, His behaviour 
may remind us of the patriot Earl of Leicester, the famous 
Simon de Montfort, who could persuade the good people of 
England that he, a Frenchman by birth, had taken arms to 
deliver them from foreisfn favourites. 


with the titles of Augustus and Emperor. The surprise, 
the terror, the intoxication, the ambitious hopes, and 
the mutual ignorance of the rest of the assembly, 
prompted them to join their voices to the general 
acclamation. The guards hastened to take the oath 
of fidelity; the gates of the town were shut; and, 
before the dawn of day, Magnentius became master of 
the troops and treasure of the palace and city of Autun. 
By his secrecy and diligence he entertained some hopes 
of surprising the person of Constans, who was pursuing 
in the adjacent forest his favourite amusement cf 
hunting, or perhaps some pleasures of a more private 
and criminal nature. The rapid progress of fame 
allowed him, however, an instant for flight, though 
the desertion of his soldiers and subjects deprived him 
of the power of resistance. Before he could reach a 
seaport in Spain, where he intended to embark, he 
was overtaken near Helena,^^ at the foot of the 
Pyrenees, by a party of light cavalry, whose chief, 
regardless of the sanctity of a temple, executed his 
commission by the murder of the son of Constantine. 

As soon as the death of Constans had decided this 
easy but important revolution, the example of the 
court of Autun was imitated by the provinces of the 
west. The authority of Magnentius was acknowledged 
through the whole extent of the tvro great praefectures 
of Gaul and Italy ; and the usurper prepared, by every 
act of oppression, to collect a treasure, which miglit 
discharge the obligation of an immense donative ajid 
supply the expenses of a civil war. The martial 
countries of lllyricum, from the Danube to the ex- 
tremity of Greece, had long obeyed the government 
of Vetranio, an aged general, beloved for the simplicity 
of his manners, and who had acquired some reputation 

58 This ancient city had once flourished under the name of 
Illiberis (Pomponius Mela, ii. 5). The munificence of Con- 
stantine gave it new splendour, and his mother's name. Helena 
(it is still called Elne) became the seat of a bishop, who long 
afterwards transferred his residence to Perpignan, the capital 
of modern Rousillon. 


by his experience and services in war.^ Attached, by 
habit, by duty, and by gratitude, to the house of 
Coii>tantine, he immediately gave the strongest assur- 
ance;^ to the only surviving son of his late master that 
he would expose, with unshaken fidelity, his person 
and his troops, to inflict a just revenge on the traitors 
of Gaul. But the legions of Vetranio were seduced 
rather than provoked by the example of rebellion ; 
their leader soon betrayed a want of firmness, or a 
want of sincerity ; and his ambition derived a specious 
pretence from the approbation of the })rincess Con- 
stantina. Tliat cruel and aspiring woman, who had 
obtained from the great Constantino her father the 
rank of Augusta, placed the diadem with her own 
hands on the head of the Illyrian general ; and seemed 
to expect from his victory the accomplishment of those 
unbounded hopes of which she had been disappointed 
by the death of her husband Hannibalianus. Perhaps 
it was without the consent of Constantina that the new 
em])eror formed a necessary, though dishonourable, 
alliance with the usurper of the west, whose purple 
was so recently stained with her brother's blood. 

The intelligence of these important events, which so 
deeply affected the honour and safety of the Imperial 
house, recalled the arms of Constantius from the 
inglorious prosecution of the Persian war. He re- 
commended the care of the east to his lieutenants, 
and afterwards to his cousin Gallus, whom he raised 
fi'om a prison to a throne ; and marched towards 
Europe, with a mind agitated by the conflict of hope 
and fear, of grief and indignation. On his arrival at 
Heraclea in Thrace, the emperor gave audience to the 
ambassadors of Magnentius and Vetranio. The first 
author of the conspiracy, Marcellinus, who in some 
measure had bestowed the purple on his new master, 

39 Eutropius (x. lo) describes Vetranio with more temper, 
and probably with more truth, than either of the two Victors. 
Vetranio was born of obscure parents in the wildest parts of 
Maesia ; and so much had his education been neglected that, 
after his elevation, he studied the alphabet. 

VOL. II. I 2 


boldly accepted this dangerous commission ; and his 
three colleagues were selected from the illustrious 
personages of the state and army. These deputies 
were instructed to soothe the resentment, and to 
alarm the fears, of Constantius. Tliey were empowered 
to offer him tlie friendship and alliance of the western 
princes, to cement their union by a double marriag-e ; 
of Constantius with the daughter of Magnentius, and 
of Magnentius himself with the ambitious Constantina ; 
and to acknowledge in the treaty the pre-eminence o: 
rank, which might justly be claimed by the emperor 
of the east. Should pride and mistaken piety urge 
him to refuse these equitable conditions, the ambassa- 
dors were ordered to expatiate on the inevitable ruin 
which must attend his rashness, if he ventured to 
provoke the sovereigns of the west to exert their 
superior strength and to employ against him that 
valour, those abilities, and those legions, to which the 
house of Constantino had been indebted for so many 
triumphs. Such propositions and such arguments 
appeared to deserve the most serious attention ; the 
answer of Constantius was deferred till the next day ; 
and, as he had reflected on the importance of justify- 
ing a civil war in the opinion of the people, he thus 
addressed his council, who listened with real or 
affected credulity: '* Last night," said he, ''after I 
retired to rest, the shade of the great Constantine, 
embracing the corpse of my murdered brother, rose 
before my eyes ; his well-known voice awakened me 
to revenge, forbade me to despair of the republic, and 
assured me of the success and immortjil glory which 
would crown the justice of my arms." The authority 
of such a vision, or rather of the prince who alleged 
it, silenced every doubt, and excluded all negotiation. 
The ignominious terms of peace w^ere rejected with 
disdain. One of the ambassadors of the tyrant was 
dismissed with the haughty answer of Constantius ; 
his colleagues, as unworthy of the privileges of the 
law of nations, were put in irons ; and the contending 
powers prepared to watre an implacable war. 


Such was the conduct, and such perhaps was the 
duty^ of the brother of Constans towards tlje perfidious 
usurper of Gaul, The situation and character of 
Vetranio admitted of milder measures ; and the policy 
of the eastern eniperor was directed to disunite his 
antagonists, and to separate the forces of lllyricum 
from the cause of rebellion. It was an easy task to 
deceive the frankness and simplicity of V^etranio, who, 
fluctuating some time between the opposite views of 
honour and interest, displayed to the world the in- 
sincerity of his temper, and was insensibly engaged in 
the snares of an artful negotiation. Constantius ac- 
knowledged him as a legitimate ayd equal colleague in 
the empire, on condition that he would renounce his 
disgraceful alliance with Maguentius and appoint a 
place of interview on the frontiers of their respective 
provinces^ where they might pledge their friendship 
by mutual vows of fidelity and regulate by couimon 
consent the future operations of the civil war. In 
consequence of this agreement, Vetranio advanced to 
the city of Sardica,^*^ at the head of twenty thousand 
horse and of a more numerous body of infantry ; a 
power so far superior to the forces of Constantius that 
the lllyrian emperor appeared to command the life 
and fortunes of his rival, who, depending on the 
success of his private negotiations, had seduced the 
troops, and undermined the throne, of Vetranio. The 
chiefs, who had secretly embraced the party of 
Constantius, prepared in his favour a public spectacle, 
calculated to discover and inflame the passions of the 
multitude. The united armies were commanded to 
assemble in a large plain near the city. In the centre, 
according to the rules of ancient discipline, a military 
tribunal, or rather scafl^old, was erected, from whence 
the emperors were accustomed, on solemn and im- 
portant occasions, to harangue the troops. The well- 

■^ The position of Sardica, near the modern city of Sophia, 
appears better suited to this interview than the situation of either 
Naissus or Sirmium, where it is placed by Jerom, Socrates, and 


ordered ranks of Romans and Barbarians, with drawn 
gwords or with erected spears, the squadrons of cavalry 
and the cohorts of infantry, distinguished by the 
variety of their arms and ensigns, formed an immense 
circle round the tribunal ; and the attentive silence 
which they preserved was sometimes interrupted by 
loud bursts of clamour or of applause. In the presence 
of this formidable assembly, the two emperors were 
called upon to explain the situation of public affairs : 
the precedency of rank was yielded to the royal birth 
of Constantius ; and, though he was indifferently skilled 
in the arts of rhetoric, he acquitted himself, under 
these difficult circumstances, with firmness, dexterity, 
and eloquence. The first part of his oration seemed 
to be pointed only against the tyrant of Gaul ; but, 
while he tragically lamented the cruel murder of 
Constans, he insinuated that none, except a brother, 
could claim a right to the succession of his brother. 
He displayed, with some complacency, the glories of 
his Imperial race ; and recalled to the memory of the 
troops the valour, the triumphs, the liberality of the 
great Constantine, to whose sons they had engaged 
their allegiance by an oath of fidelity, which the in- 
gratitude of his most favoured servants had tempted 
them to violate. The officers, who surrounded the 
tribunal and were instructed to act their parts in this 
extraordinary scene, confessed the irresistible power 
of reason and eloquence by saluting the emperor 
Constantius as their lawful sovereign. The contagion 
of loyalty and repentance was communicated from 
rank to rank ; till the plain of Sardica resounded with 
the universal acclamation of ^* Away with these upstart 
usurpers ! Long life and victory to the son of Con- 
stantine ! Under his banners alone we will fight and 
conquer." The shout of thousands, their menacing 
gestures, the fierce clashing of their arms, astonished 
and subdued the courage of Vetranio, who stood, 
amidst the defection of his followers, in anxious and 
silent suspense. Instead of embracing the last refuge 
of generous despair, he tamely submitted to his fate ; 


and takino- the diadem from bis head^ in view of both 
armies, fell prostrate at the feet of bis conqueror. 
Constantius used bis victory with prudence and 
moderation ; and raising from the ground the aged 
suppliant, whom be affected to style by the endearing 
name of Father, he gave him his hand to descend 
from the throne. The city of Prusa was assigned for 
the exile or retirement of the abdicated monarch, who 
lived six years in the enjoyment of ease and affluence. 
He often expressed his grateful sense of the goodness 
of Constantius, and, with a very amiable simplicity, 
advised bis benefactor to resign the sceptre of the 
world, and to seek for content (where alone it could 
be found) in the peaceful obscurity of a private 
condition. ■** 

The behaviour of Constantius on this memorable 
occasion was celebrated with some appearance of 
justice ; and his courtiers compared the studied 
orations which a Pericles or a Demosthenes addressed 
to the populace of Athens with the victorious eloquence 
which had persuaded an armed multitude to desert 
and depose the object of their partial choice. The 
approaching contest with Ma-rnentius was of a more 
serious and bloody kind. The tyrant advanced by 
rapid marches to encounter Constantius, at the head 
of a numerous army, composed of Gauls and Spaniards, 
of Franks and Saxons ; of those provincials who 
supplied the strength of the legions, and of those 
barbarians who were dreaded as the most formidable 
enemies of the republic. The fertile plains ^^ of the 

*i The younger Victor assigns to his exile the emphatical 
appellation of " Voluptarium otium." Socrates (1. ii. c. 28) is 
the voucher for the correspondence with the emperor, which 
would seem to prove that Vetranio was, indeed, prope ad 
stultitiam simplicissimus. 

42 Busbequius (p. 112) traversed the Lower Hungary and 
Sclavonia at a time when they were reduced almost to a desert 
by the reciprocal hostilities of the Turks and Christians. Yet 
he mentions with admiration the unconquerable fertility of the 
soil ; and observes that the height of the grass was sufficient to 
conceal a loaded waggon from his sight. 


Lower Pannonia, between the Drave, the Save^ and 
the Danube, presented a spacious theatre ; and the 
operations of the civil war were protracted during- the 
summer months by the skill or timidity of the com- 
batants. Constantius had declared his intention of 
deciding the quarrel in the fields of Cibalis, a name 
that would animate his troops by the remembrance of 
the victory which, on the same auspicious ground, had 
been obtained by the arms of his father Constantine. 
Yet, by the impregnable fortifications with which the 
emperor encompassed his camp, he appeared to decline, 
rather than to invite, a general engagement. It was 
the object of Magnentius to tempt or to compel his 
adversary to relinquish this advantageous position ; 
and he employed, with that view, the various marches, 
evolutions, and stratagems, which the knowledge of 
the art of war could suggest to an experienced officer. 
He carried by assault the important town of Siscia ; 
made an attack on the city of Sirmium, which lay in 
the rear of the Imperial camp ; attempted to force a 
passage over the Save into the eastern provinces of 
Illyricum ; and cut in pieces a numerous detachment, 
which he had allured into the narrow passes of Adarne. 
During the greater part of the summer, the tyrant of 
Gaul showed himself master of the field. The troops 
of Constantius were harassed and dispirited ; his 
reputation declined in the eye of the world ; and his 
pride condescended to solicit a treaty of peace, which 
would have resigned to the assassin of Coustans the 
sovereignty of the provinces beyond the Alps. These 
offers were enforced by the eloquence of Philip the 
Imperial ambassador ; and the council as well as the 
army of Magnentius were disposed to accept them. 
But the haughty usurper, careless of tlie remonstrances 
of his friends, gave orders that Philip should be de- 
tained as a captive, or at least as a hostage ; while 
he despatched an officer to reproach Constantius with 
the weakness of his reign, and to insult him by the 
promise of a pardon, if he would instantly abdicate 
the purple. '^ That he should confide in the justice of 


his cause and tlie protection of an avenging- Deity/' was 
tlie only answer wliich lionour permitted tlie^emperor 
to return. Rut he was so sensible of the difficulties 
of his situation that he no longer dared to retaliate the 
indignity which had been offered to his representative. 
TTie negotiation of Philip was not^ however, ineffectual, 
since he determined Sylvan us, the Frank, a general 
of merit and reputation, to desert with a considerable 
body of cavali-y, a few days before the battle of Mursa. 
The cit}' of Mursa, or Essek, celebrated in modern 
times for a bridge of boats five miles in length over 
the river Drave and the adjacent morasses, "^^ jj^g heen 
always considered as a place of importance in the wars 
of Hungary. Magnentius, directing his march towards 
Mursa, set fire to the gates, and, by a sudden assault, 
had almost scaled the wjiils of tiie town. The vigilance 
of the garrison extinguished the flames ; the ap])roach 
of Constantius left him no time to continue the opera- 
tions of the siege ; and the emperor soon removed the 
only obstacle that could embarrass his motions, by 
forcing a body of troops which had taken post in an 
adjoining amphitheatre. The field of battle round 
Mursa was a naked and level plain ; on this ground 
the army of Constantius formed, with the Drave on 
their right ; while their left, either from the nature 
of their disposition or from the superiority of their 
cavalry, extended far beyond the right' flank of 
Magnentius. The troops on both sides remained 
under arms in anxious expectation during the greatest 
];art of the morning ; and the son of Constantine, 
after animating his soldiers by an eloquent speech, 
retired into a church at some distance from the field 
of battle, and committed to his generals the conduct 
of this decisive day."*^ They deserved his confidence by 

*^ This remarkable bridge, which is flanked with towers, and 
supported on large wooden piles, was constructed, A.D. 1566, 
by Sultan Soliman, to facilitate the march of his armies into 

-" The emperor passed the day in prayer with Valens, the 
Arian bishop of Mursa, who gained his confidence by announcing 


the valour and military skill which thev exerted. They 
wisely be^au the action upon the left ; and, advancing 
their whole wing- of cavalry in an oblique line, they 
suddenly wheeled it on the right flank of the enemy, 
which was unprepared to resist the impetuosity of 
their charge. But the Romans of the West soon 
rallied, by the habits of discipline ; and the Barbarians 
of Germany supported the renown of their national 
bravery. The engagement soon became general ; was 
maintained with various and singular turns of fortune ; 
and scarcely ended with the darkness of the night. 
The signal victory which Constantius obtained is 
attributed to the arms of his cavalry. His cuirassiers 
are described as so many massy statues of steel, glitter- 
ing with their scaly armour, and breaking with their 
ponderous lances the firm array of the Gallic legions. 
As soon as the legions gave way, the lighter and more 
active squadrons of the second line rode sword in 
hand into the intervals, and completed the disorder. 
In the meanwhile, the huge bodies of the Germans 
were exposed almost naked to the dexterity of the 
oriental archers ; and whole troops of those Barbarians 
were urged by anguish and despair to precipitate them- 
selves into the broad and rapid stream of the Drave. 
The number of the slain was computed at fifty-four 
thousand men, and the slaughter of the conquerors 
w;is more considerable than that of the vanquished ; ^^ 
a circumstance which proves the obstinacy of the 

the success of the battle. M. de Tillemont (Hist, des Em- 
pereurs, torn. iv. p. mo) very properly remarks the silence of 
Julian with regard to the personal prowess of Constantius in the 
battle of Mursa. The silence of flattery is sometimes equal to 
the most positive and authentic evidence. 

45 According to Zonaras, Constantius, out of 80,000 men, lost 
30,000, and Magnentius lost 24,000 out of 36,000. The other 
articles of this account seem probable and authentic, but the 
numbers of the tyrant's army must have been mistaken, either 
by the author or his transcribers. Magnentius had collected 
the whole force of the West, Romans and Barbarians, into one 
formidable body, which cannot fairly be estimated at less than 


contest, and justifies the observation of an ancient 
writer that the forces of the empire were consumed 
in the fatal battle of Mursa^ by the loss of a veteran 
army, sufficient to defend the frontiers or to add new 
triumphs to the glory of Rome. Notwithstanding the 
invectives of a servile orator, there is not the least 
reason to believe that the tyrant deserted his own 
standard in the beginning of the engagement. He 
seems to have displayed the virtues of a general and 
of a soldier till the day was irrecoverably lost^ and his 
camp in the possession of the enemy. Magiientius 
then consulted his safety, and, throwing away the 
Imperial ornaments, escaped with some difficulty from 
the pursuit of the light horse, who incessantly followed 
his rapid flight from the banks of the Drave to the foot 
of the Julian Alps. 

The approach of winter supplied the indolence of 
Constantius with specious reasons for deferring the 
prosecution of the war till the ensuing spring. Mag- 
nentius had fixed his residence in the city of Aquileia. 
and showed a seeming resolution to dispute the passage 
of the mountains and morasses which fortified the con- 
fines of the Venetian province. The surprisal of a 
castle in the Alps by the secret march of the Imperi- 
alists could scarcely have determined him to relinquish 
the possession of Italy, if the inclinations of the people 
had supported the cause of their tyrant. But the 
memory of the cruelties exercised by his ministers, 
after the unsuccessful revolt of Nepotian, had left a 
deep impression of horror and resentment on the 
minds of the Romans. That rash youth, the son of 
the princess Eutropia, and the nephew of Constantino, 
had seen with indignation the sceptre of the West 
usurped by a perfidious barbarian. Arming a desperate 
troop of slaves and gladiators, he overpowered the 
feeble guard of the domestic tranquillity of Rome, 
received the homage of the senate, and, assuming the 
title of Augustus, precariously reigned during a tumult 
of twenty-eight days. The march of some regular 
forces put an end to his ambitious hopes : the rebellion 


was extinguished in the blood of Nepotian, of his 
mother Eutropia, and of his adherents ; and the pro- 
scription was extended to all wlio had contracted a 
fatal alliance with the name and family of Constantine. 
But_, as soon as Constantius^ after the battle of Mursa, 
became master of the sea-coast of Dalmatia^ a band of 
noble exiles, who had ventured to equip a fleet in 
some harbour of the Hadriatic, sought protection and 
revenge in his victorious camp. By tlieir secret in- 
telligence with their countrymen, Rome and the Italian 
cities were persuaded to display the banners of Con- 
stantius on their walls. The grateful veterans, enriched 
by the liberality of the father, signalised their gratitude 
and loyalty to the son. The cavalry, the legions, and 
the auxiliaries of Italy renewed their oath of allegiance 
to Constantius ; and the usurper, alarmed by the 
general desertion, was compelled, with the remains of 
his faithful troops, to retire beyond the Alps into the 
provinces of Gaul. The detachments, however, which 
were ordered either to press or to intercept the flight 
of Magnentius, conducted themselves with the usual 
imprudence of success ; and allowed him, in the plains 
of Pavia, an opportunity of turning on his pursuers 
and of gratifying his despair bytlie carnage of a useless 

The pride of Magnentius was reduced, by repeated 
misfortunes, to sue, and to sue in vain, for peace. He 
first despatched a senator, in whose abilities he con- 
fided, and afterwards several bishops, whose holy char- 
acter might obtain a more fav.jurable audience, with 
the offer of resigning the purple, and the promise of 
devoting the remainder of his life to the service of the 
emperor. But Constantius, though he granted fair 
terms of pardon and reconciliation to all wlio abandoned 
the standard of rebellion, avowed his inflexible resolu- 
tion to inflict a just punishment on the crimes of an 
assassin, whom he prepared to overwhelm on every 
side by the effort of his victorious arms. An Imperial 
fleet acquired the easy possession of Africa and Spain, 
confirmed the wavering faith of the Moorish nations, 


and landed a considerable force, which passed the 
Pj^renees, and advanced towards Lyons, the last and 
fatal station of Mag-nentius. The temper of the tyrant, 
which was never inclined to clemency, was urged by 
distress to exercise every act of oppression which could 
extort an immediate supply from the cities of Gaul.*^ 
Their patience was at lengih exhausted ; and Treves, 
the seat of Praetorian government, gave the signal of 
revolt by shutting her gates against Decentius, who 
had been raised by his brother to the rank either of 
('aesar or of Augustus.*'^ From Treves, Decentius was 
obliged to retire to Sens, where he was soon surrounded 
by an army of Germans, whom the pernicious arts of 
Constantius had introduced into the civil dissensions 
of Rome. In the meantime the Imperial troops forced 
the passages of the Cottian Alps, and in the bloody 
combat of Mount Seleucus irrevocably fixed the title 
of Rebels on the party of Magnentius. He was unable 
to bring dnother army into the field ; the fidelity of 
his guards was corrupted: and, when he appeared in 
public to animate them by his exhortations, he was 
saluted with an unanimous shout of " Long live the 
emperor Constantius ! " The tyrant, who perceived 
that they were preparing to deserve pardon and rewards 
by the sacrifice of the most obnoxious criminal, pre- 
vented their design by falling on his sword ; a death 
more easy and more honourable than he could hope to 
obtain from the hands of an enemy, whose revenge 
would have been coloured with the specious pretence 
of justice and fraternal piety. The example of suicide 

'*" Julian, who (Oral, i, p. 40) inveighs against the cruel effects 
of the tyrant's despair, mentions (Orat. i. p. 34) the oppressive 
edicts which were dictated by his necessities, or by his avarice. 
His subjects were compelled to purchase the Imperial demesnes ; 
a doubtful and dangerous species of property, which, in case 
of a revolution, might be imputed to them as a treasonable 

47 The medals of Magnentius celebrate the victories of the two 
August!, and of the Caesar. The Cassar was another brother, 
named Desiderius. 


was imitated by Decentius, who strangled himself ou 
the uews of his brother's death. The author of the 
conspiracy, Marcellinus, had long since disappeareil in 
the battle of Mursa/^ and the public tranquillity wa^ 
confirmed by the execution of the surviving leaders of 
a guilty and unsuccessful faction. A severe inquisition 
was extended over all who, either from choice or from 
compulsion, had been involved in the cause of rebellion. 
Paul, surnamed Catena, from his superior skill in the 
judicial exercise of tyranny, was sent to explore the 
latent remains of the conspiracy in the remote province 
of Britain. The honest indignation expressed by 
Martin, vice-prajfect of the island, was interpreted as 
an evidence of his own guilt ; and the governor was 
urged to the necessity of turning against his breast 
the sword with which he had been provoked to wound 
the Imperial minister. The most innocent subjects of 
the VV^est were exposed to exile and confiscation, to 
death and torture ; and, as the timid are always cruel, 
the mind of Constantius was inaccessible to mercy. 

**> Julian (Orat. i. pp. 58, 59) seems at a loss to determine 
whether he inflicted on himself the punishment of his crimes, 
whether he was drowned in the Drave, or whether he was carried 
by the aveng'ng demons from the field of battle to his destined 
place of eternal tortures. 






The divided provinces of the empire were again united 
by the victory of Constantius ; but, as that feeble 
prince was destitute of personal merit, either in peace 
or war ; as he feared his generals and distrusted his 
ministers ; the triumph of his arms served only to 
establish the reign of the eunuch.^ over the Roman 
world. Those unhappy beings, the ancient production 
of oriental jealousy and despotism, were introduced 
into Greece and Rome by the contagion of Asiatic 
luxury. Tlieir progress was rapid ; and the eunuchs, 
who, in the time of Augustus, had been abhorred, as 
the monstrous retinue of an Egyptian queen, were 
gradually admitted into the families of matrons, of 
senators, and of the emperors themselves. Restrained 
by the severe edicts of Domitian and Nerva, cherished 
by the pride of Diocletian, reduced to an humble 
station by the prudence of Constantine,^ they multi- 
plied in the palaces of his degenerate sons, and in- 
sensibly acquired the knowledge, and at length the 
direction, of the secret councils of Constantius. The 
aversion and contempt which mankind has so uniformly 
entertained for that imperfect species appears to have 
degraded their character, and to have rendered them 
almost as incapable as they were supposed to be of 

^ There is a passage in the Augustan History, p. 137, in which 
Lampridius, whilst he praises Alexander Severus and Constantine 
for restraining the t>Tanny of the eunuchs, deplores the mischiefs 
which they occasioned in other reigns. 


conceiving any generous sentiment or of performing 
any worthy action. ^ But the eunuchs were skilled ui 
the arts of flattery and intrigue ; and they alternately 
governed the mind of Constantius by his fears, his 
indolence, and his vanity.^ Whilst he viewed in a 
deceitful mirror the fair appearance of public pros- 
perity, he supinely permitted them to intercept the 
complaints of the injured provinces, to accumulate 
immense treasures by the sale of justice and of honours ; 
to disgrace the most important dignities by the pro- 
motion of those who had purchased at their hands the 
powers of oppression,^ and to gratify their reseutrnent 
against the few independent spirits who arrogantly 
refused to solicit the protection of slaves. Of tliese 
slaves the most distinguished was the chamberlain 
Eusebius, who ruled the monarch and the palace with 
such absolute sway that Constantius, according to the 
sarcasm of an impartial historian, possessed some credit 
with his haughty favourite. By his artful suggestions, 
the emperor was persuaded to subscribe the condemna- 
tion of the unfortunate Gallus, and to add a new crime 

2 Xenophon (C\ropasdia, 1. viii. p. 540) has stated the 
specious reasons which engaged Cyrus to entrust his person 
to the guard of eunuchs. He had observed in animals that, 
although the practice of castration might tame their ungovernable 
fierceness, it did not diminish their strength or spirit ; and he 
persuaded himself that those who were separated from the rest 
of human kind would be more firmly attached to the person of 
their benefactor. But a long experience has contradicted the 
judgment of Cyrus. Some particular instances may occur of 
eunuchs distinguished by their fidelity, their valour, and their 
abilities ; but, if we examine the general history of Persia, 
India, and China, we shall find that the power of the eunuchs 
has uniformly marked the decline and fall of every dynasty. 

3 The whole tenor of his impartial history serves to justify 
the invectives of Mamertinus, of Libanius, and of Julian himself, 
who have insulted the vices of the court of Constantius. 

* Aurelius Victor censures the negligence of his sovereign in 
choosing the governors of the provinces and the generals of the 
army, and concludes his history with a very bold observation, 
as it is much more dangerous under a feeble reign to attack the 
ministers than the master himself. 


to the long' list of unnatural murders which pollute 
the honour of the house of Constantiue. 

When the two nephews of Constantine, Gallus and 
Julian, were saved from the fury of the soldiers, the 
former was about twelve, and the hitter about six, years 
of age ; and, as the eldest was thought to be of a sickly 
constitution, they obtained with the less difficulty a 
precarious and dependent life from the atfected pity of 
Constantius, who was sensible that the execution of 
these helpless orphans would have been esteemed by 
all mankind an act of the most deliberate cruelty.^ 
Different cities of Ionia and Bithynia were assigned for 
the places of their exile and education ; but, as soon as 
their growing years excited the jealousy of the emperor, 
he judged it more prudent to secure those unhappy 
youths in the strong castle of Macellum, near Caesarea. 
The treatment which they experienced during a six 
years' confinement was partly such as they could hope 
from a careful guardian, and partly such as they might 
dread from a suspicious tyrant.^ Their prison was an 
ancient palace, the residence of the kings of Cappa- 
docia ; the situation was pleasant, the buildings stately, 
the inclosure spacious. They pursued their studies, 
and practised their exercises, under the tuition of the 
most skilful masters ; and the numerous household, 
appointed to attend, or rather to guard, the nepliews 
of Constantine, was not unworthy of the dignity of 
their birth. But they could not disguise to themselves 
that they were deprived of fortune, of freedom, and of 
safety ; secluded from the society of all whom they 

' Gregory Nazianzen (Orat. iii. p. 90) reproaches the apostate 
with his ingratitude towards Mark, bishop of Arethusa, who had 
contributed to save his life ; and we learn, though from a less 
respectable authority, that Julian v/as concealed in the sanctuary 
of a church. 

6 The most authentic account of the education and adventures 
of Julian is contained in the epistle or manifesto which he him- 
self addressed to the senate and people of Athens. Libanius 
(Orat. Parentalis), on the side of the Pagans, and Socrates (L iii. 
c. i), on that of the Christians, have preserved several interest- 
ing circumstances. 


could trust or esteem ; and condemned to pass their 
melancholy hours in the company of slaves, devoted to 
the commands of a tyrant, who had already injured 
them beyond the hope of reconciliation. At length, 
however, the emergencies of the state compelled the 
emperor, or rather his eunuchs, to invest Gallus, in 
the twenty-fifth year of his age, with the title of Caesar, 
and to cement this political connection by his marriage 
with the princess Constantina. After a formal inter- 
view, in which the two princes mutually engaged their 
faith never to undertake anything to the prejudice of 
each other, they repaired without delay to their re- 
spective stations. Constantius continued his march 
towards the West, and Gallus fixed his residence at 
Antioch, from whence, with a delegated authority, he 
administered the five great dioceses of the eastern 
prfefecture.*^ In this fortunate change, the new Cjvsar 
was not unmindful of his brother Julian, who obtained 
the honours of his rank, the appearances of liberty, 
and the restitution of an ample patrimony.^ 

The writers the most indulgent to the memory of 
Gallus, and even Julian himself, though he wished to 
cast a veil over the frailties of his brother, are obliged 
to confess that the Caesar was incapable of reigning. 
Transported from a prison to a throne, he possessed 
neither genius nor application, nor docility to com- 
pensate for the want of knowledge and experience. A 
temper naturally morose and violent, instead of being 
corrected, was soured, by solitude and adversity ; the 

"^ For the promotion of Gallus, see Idatius, Zosimus, and the 
two Victors. According to Philostorgius (1. iv. c. i), Theophilus, 
an Arian bishop, was the witness, and, as it were, thegaurantee, 
of this solemn engagement. He supported that character with 
generous firmness ; but M. de Tillemont (Hist, des Empereurs, 
tom. iv. p. 1 120) thinks it very improbable that an heretic 
should have possessed such virtue. 

8 Julian was at first permitted to pursue his studies at Con- 
stantinople, but the reputation which he acquired soon excited 
the jealousy of Constantius ; and the young prince was advised 
to withdraw himself to the less conspicuous scenes of Bithynia 
and Ionia. 

351-354 OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE 281 

remembrance of what he had endured disposed him 
to retaliation rather than to sympatliy ; and the nn- 
governed sallies of his rage were often fatal to those 
who approached his person or were subject to his 
power.^ Constantina, his wife, is described, not as a 
woman, but as one of the infernal furies tormented 
with an insatiate thirst of human blood. ^*^ Instead of 
employing her influence to insinuate the mild counsels 
of prudence and humanity, she exasperated the fierce 
passions of her husband ; and, as she retained the 
vanity, though she had renounced the gentleness, of 
her sex, a pearl necklace was esteemed an equivalent 
price for the murder of an innocent and virtuous 
nobleman. ^^ The cruelty of Gallus was sometimes 
displayed in the undissembled violence of popular or 
military executions ; and was sometimes disguised by 
the abuse of law, and the forms of judicial proceedings. 
The private houses of Antioch and the places of public 
resort were besieged by spies and informers ; and the 
Caesar himself, concealed in a plebeian habit, very 
frequently condescended to assume that odious char- 
acter. Every apartment of the palace was adorned 
with the instruments of death and torture, and a 
ifeneral consternation was diffused through the capital 
of Syria. The Prince of the East, as if he had been 
conscious how much he had to fear, and how little he 
deserved to reign, selected for the objects of his re- 
sentment the provincials, accused of some imaginary 
treason, and his own courtiers, whom with more reason 

8 I shall copy the words of Eutropius, who wrote his abridg- 
ment about fifteen years after the death of Gallus, when there 
was no longer any motive either to flatter or to depreciate his 
character. " Multis incivilibus gestis Gallus Caesar . . . vir 
natura ferox et ad tyrannidem pronior, si suo jure imperaie 

^0 The sincerity of Ammianus would not suffer him to mis- 
represent facts or characters, but his love of ambitious orna- 
ments frequently betrayed him into an unnatural vehemence 
of expression. 

11 His name was Clematius of Alexandria, and his only crime 
was a refusal to gratify the desires of his mother-in-law ; who 
solicited his death, because she had been disappointed of his love. 


he suspected of incensingj by their secret correspon- 
dence, the timid and suspicious mind of Constantius. 
But he forg-ot that he was depriving himself of his 
only support, the affection of the people ; whilst he 
furnished the malice of his enemies with the arms of 
truth, and afforded the emperor the fairest pretence of 
exacting the forfeit of his purple, and of his life. 

As long as the civil war suspended the fate of the 
Roman world, Constantius dissembled his knowledge 
of the weak and cruel administration to which his 
choice had subjected the East ; and the discovery of 
some assassins, secretly despatched to Antioch by the 
tyrant of Gaul, was employed to convince the public, 
tiiat the emperor and the Cjesar were united by the 
same interest and pursued by the same enemies. ^^ 
But, when the victory was decided in favour of Con- 
stantius, his dependent colleague became less useful 
and less formidable. Every circumstance of his conduct 
was severely and suspiciously examined, and it was 
privately resolved either to deprive Gallus of the 
purple or at least to remove him from the indolent 
luxury of Asia to the hardships and dangers of a 
German war. The death of Theophilus, consular of 
the province of Syria, who in a time of scarcity had 
been massacred by the people of Antioch with the 
connivance, and almost at the instigation, of Gallus, 
was justly resented, not only as an act of wanton 
cruelty, but as a dangerous insult on the supreme 
majesty of Constantius. Two ministers of illustrious 
rank, Domitian, the oriental praefect, and Montius, 
qunpstor of the palace, were empowered by a special 
commission to visit and reform the state of the East. 
They were instructed to behave towards Gallus with 
moderation and respect, and, by the gentlest arts of 
persuasion, to engage him to comply with the invita- 
tion of his brother and colleague. The rashness of 
the praifect disappointed these prudent measures, and 

12 The assassins had seduced a great number of legionaries ; 
but their designs were discovered and revealed by an old woman 
in whose cottage they lodged. 


hastened his own ruin as well ag that of his enemy. 
(>n his arrival at Antioch, Domitian passed disdainfully 
before the ^ates of the palace, and, alleg-ing a slight 
pretence of indisposition, continued several days in 
sullen retirement to prepare an inflammatory memo- 
rial, which he transmitted to the Imperial court. 
Yielding at length to the pressing" solicitations of 
Gallus, the praefect condescended to take his seat in 
council ; but his first step was to signify a concise and 
haughty mandate, importing that the Caesar should 
immediately repair to Italy, and threatening that he 
himself would punish his delay or hesitation by sus- 
pending the usual allowance of his household. The 
nephew and daughter of Constantine, who could ill 
brook the insolence of a su])ject, expressed their re- 
sentment by instantly delivering Domitian to the 
custody of a guard. Tlie quarrel still admitted of 
some terms of accommodation. They were rendered 
impracticable by the imprudent behaviour of Montius, 
a statesman whose art and experience were frequently 
betraved by the levity of his disposition.^^ The quaestor 
reproached Gallus in haughty language that a prince 
who was scarcely authorised to remove a municipal 
magistrate should presum.e to imprison a Praetorian 
praefect ; convoked a meeting of the civil and military 
officers ; and required them, in the name of their 
sovereign, to defend the person and dignity of his 
representatives. By this rash declaration of war, the 
impatient temper of Gallus was provoked to embrace 
the most despei-ate counsels. He ordered his guards 
to stand to their arms, assembled the populace 
of Antioch, and recommended to their zeal the care 
of his safety and revenge. His commands were too 

^' In the present text of Ammianus, we read, Asper quidem 
sed ad lenitatem propensior ; which forms a sentence of con- 
tradictory nonsense. With the aid of an old manuscript 
Valesius has rectified the first of these corruptions, and we 
perceive a ray of light in the substitution of the word wafer. 
If we venture to change lenitatem into Ier>itctem, this alteration 
of a single letter wfll render the whole passage clear and 


fatally obeyed. Tliey rudely seized the praefect and 
the quaestor^ and, tying their legs together with ropes, 
they dragged them through the streets of the city, 
inflicted a thousand insults and a thousand wounds on 
these unhappy victims, and at last precipitated their 
mangled and lifeless bodies into the stream of the 

After such a deed, whatever might have been the 
designs of Gallus, it was only in a Held of battle that 
he could assert his innocence with any hope of success. 
But the mind of that prince was formed of an equal 
mixture of violence and weakness. Instead of assum- 
ing the title of Augustus, instead of employing in his 
defence the troops and treasures of the East, he 
suffered himself to be deceived by the affected tran- 
quillity of Constantius, who, leaving him the vain 
pageantry of a court, imperceptibly recalled the 
veteran legions from the provinces of Asia. But, as 
it still appeared dangerous to arrest Gallus in his 
capital, the slow and safer arts of dissimulation were 
practised with success. The frequent and pressing 
epistles of Constantius were filled with professions of 
confidence and friendship ; exhorting the Caesar to 
discharge tlie duties of his high station, to relieve his 
colleague from a part of the public cares, and to assist 
the \Vest by his presence, his counsels and his arms. 
After so many reciprocal injuries, Gallus had reason 
to fear and to distrust. But he had neglected the 
opportunities of flight and of resistance ; he was 
seduced by the flattering assurances of the tribune 
Scudilo, who, under the semblance of a rough soldier, 
disguised the most artful insinuation ; and he de- 
pended on the credit of his wife Constantina, till the 
unseasonable death of that princess completed the 

14 Instead of being obliged to collect scattered and imperfect 
hints from various sources, we now enter into the full stream of 
the history of Ammianus, and need only refer to the seventh 
and ninth chapters of his fourteenth book. Philostorgius, how- 
ever (1. iii. c. 28), though partial to Gallus, should not be 
eptirely overlooked. 


ruin in wliich he had been involved by her impetuous 
passions. ^^ 

After a long delay, the reluctant Ctesar set fonvards 
on his journey to the Imperial court. From Aiitioch 
to Hadrianople, he traversed the wide extent of his 
dominions with a numerous and stately train ; and^ 
as he laboured to conceal his apprehensions from tlie 
world, and perhaps from himself, he entertained the 
people of Constantino})le with an exhibition of tlie 
games of the circus. The progress of the journey 
mioflit, however, have warned him of the impending 
danger. In all the principal cities he was met by 
ministers of confidence, commissioned to seize the 
offices of government, to observe his motions, and to 
prevent the hasty sallies of his despair. The persons 
despatched to secure the provinces which he left 
behind passed him with cold salutations or affected 
disdain ; and the troops, whose station lay along the 
public road, were studiously removed on his approach, 
lest they might be tempted to offer their swords for 
the service of a civil war.^** After Gallus had been 
permitted to repose himself a few days at Hadrianople 
he received a mandate, expressed in the most haughty 
and absolute style, that his splendid retinue sliould 
halt in that city, while the Caesar himself, with only 
ten post-carriages, should hasten to the Imperial 
residence at Milan. In this rapid journey, the pro- 
found res])ect which was due to the brother and 
colleague of Constantius was insensibly changed into 
rude familiarity ; and Gallus, who discovered in tlie 
countenances of the attendants that they already 

IS She had preceded her huiband ; but died of a fever 
on the road, at a httle place in Bithynia, called Coenum 

''*^ The Thebstan legions, which were then quartered at 
Hadrianople, sent a deputation to Gallus, with a tender of their 
services. The Notitia (s. 6, 20, 38, edit. Labb. ) mentions 
three several legions which bore the name of Thebaan. The 
zeal of M. de \'oltaire, to destroy a despicable though cele- 
brated legend, has tempted him on the slightest grounds to 
deny the existence of a Thebaean legion in the Roman amies. 


considered themselves as his guards, and might soon 
be employed as his executioners^ began to accuse his 
fatal rashness, and to recollect with terror and re- 
morse the conduct by which he had provoked his fate. 
The dissimulation whicli had hitherto been preserved, 
was laid aside at Poetovio in Pannonia. He was 
conducted to a palace in the suburbs, where the 
general Barbatio, with a select band of soldiers, who 
could neither be moved by pity nor corrupted by 
rewards, expected the arrival of his illustrious victim. 
In the close of the evening he was arrested, ignomini- 
ously stripped of the ensigns of Caesar, and hurried 
away to Pola in Istria, a sequestered prison which had 
been so recently polluted with royal blood. The 
horror vvhich he felt was soon increased by the ap- 
pearance of his implacable enemy the eunuch Eusebius, 
who, with the assistance of a notary and a tribui.?, 
proceeded to interrogate liim concerning the adminis- 
tration of the East. The Caesar sunk under the weii^ht 
of shame and guilt, confessed all the criminal actions, 
and all the treasonable designs, with which he was 
charged ; and, by imputing tliem to the advice of his 
wife, exasperated the indignation of Constantius, who 
reviewed with partial prejudice the minutes of the 
examination. The emperor was easily convinced that 
his own safety was incompatible with the life of his 
cousin : the sentence of death was signed, despatched, 
and executed ; and the nephew of Constantine, with 
his hands tied behind his back, was beheaded in prison 
iike the vilest malefactor. ^^ Those who are inclined 
to palliate the cruelties of Constantius assert that lie 
soon relented and endeavoured to recall the bloody 
mandate : but that the second messenger entrusted 
with the reprieve was detained by the eunuchs, who 
dreaded the unforgiving temper of Gallus, and were 

17 Julian complains that his brother was put to death with- 
out a trial ; attempts to justify, or at least to excuse, the cruel 
revenji^e which he had inflicted on his enemies ; but seems at 
last to acknowledge that he might justly iiave been deprived 
of the purple. 



desirous of reuniting to their empire the wealthy 
provinces of the East. 

Beside* the reigning emperor^ Julian alone survived, 
of all the numerous posterity of Constantius Chloriis. 
The misfortune of his royal birth involved him in the 
disgrace of Gallus. From his retirement in the happy 
country of Ionia, he was conveyed under a strong 
guard to the court of Milan ; where he languished 
above seven months, in the continual apprehension of 
suifering the same ignominious death which was daily 
iutiicted, almost before his eyes, on the friends and 
adherents of his persecuted family. His looks, his 
gestures, his silence, were scrutinised with malignant 
curiosity, and he was perpetually assaulted by enemies 
whom he had never o'tfended, and by arts to which he 
was a stranger.^* But, in the school of adversity, 
Julian insensibly acquired the virtues of firmness and 
discretion. He defended his honour, as well as his 
life, against the ensnaring subtleties of the eunuchs, 
who endeavoured to extort some declaration of his 
sentiments ; and, whilst he cautiously suppressed his 
grief and resentment, he nobly disdained to Hatter the 
tyrant by any seeming approbation of his brother's 
murder. Julian most devoutly ascribes his miraculous 
deliverance to the protection of the gods, who had 
exempted his innocence from the sentence of destruc- 
tion pronounced by their justice against the impious 
house of Constantino.^^ As the most effectual instru- 
ment of their providence, he gratefully acknowledges 

18 Jiilian himself, in his epistle to the Athenians, draws a 
very lively and just picture of his own danger, and of his senti- 
r.ients. He shows, however, a tendency to exaggerate his 
sufferings, by insinuating, though in obscure terras, that they 
lasted above a year ; a period which cannot be reconciled with 
the truth of chronology. 

19 Julian has worked the crimes and misfortunes of the 
family of Constantine into an allegorical fable, which is happily 
conceived and agreably related. It forms the conclusion of the 
seventh Oration, from whence it has been detached and trans- 
lated by the Abb^ de la Bl^terie, Vie de Jovien, tom. ii. pp. 


the steady and generous friendship of the empress 
Eusebia^^^ a woman of beauty and merit, who, by the 
ascendant which she had gained over tiie mind of 
her husband, counterbalanced, in some measure, the 
powerful conspiracy of the eunuchs. By the inter- 
cession of his patroness, Julian was admitted into the 
Imperial presence ; he pleaded his cause with a decent 
freedom, he was heard with favour ; and, notwitli- 
standing the efforts of his enemies, who urged the 
danger of sparing an avenger of the blood of Gallus, 
the milder sentiment of Eusebia prevailed in the 
council. But the effects of a second interview were 
dreaded by the eunuchs; and Julian was advised to 
withdraw for a while into the neighbourhood of Milan, 
till the emperor thought proper to assign the city of 
Athens for the place of his honourable exile. As he 
had discovered from his earliest youth a propensity, or 
rather passion, for the language, the manners, the 
learning, and the religion of the Greeks, he obeyed 
with pleasure an order so agreeable to his wishes. Far 
from the tumult of arms and the treachery of courts, 
he spent six months amidst the groves of the academy, 
in a free intercourse with the pliilosophers of the age, 
who studied to cultivate the genius, to encourage the 
vanity, and to inflame the devotion, of their royal 
pupil. Their labours were not unsuccessful ; and 
Julian inviolably preserved for Athens that tender 
regard which seldom fails to arise in a liberal mind 
fioni the recollection of the place where it has dis- 
covered and exercised its growing powers. The 
gentleness and affability of manners, which his temper 
suggested and his situation imposed, insensibly engaged 
the affections of the strangers, as well as citizens, with 
whom he conversed. Some of his fellow-students might 
perhaps examine his behaviour with an eye of prejudice 
and aversion ; but Julian established, in the schools 

2" She was a native of Thessalonica in Macedonia, of a noble 
family, and the daughter as well as sister of consuls. Her 
marriage with the emperor may lie placed in the year 352. In 
a divided age the historians of all parties agree in her praises. 

355 OF THE ROMAN EMriRE 289 

of Athens, a g-eneral pre-possession in favour of his 
virtues and talents, which was soon diffused over the 
Roman world. ^^ 

^Vhilst his hours were passed in studious retirement, 
the empress^ resolute to achieve the generous design 
which she had undertaken, was not unmindful of the 
care of his fortune. Tlie death of the late Caesar had 
left Constantius invested with the sole command, and 
oppressed by the accumulated weight, of a mighty 
empire. Before the wounds of civil discord could be 
healed, the provinces of Gaul were overwhelmed by a 
deluge of Barbarians. The Sarmatians no longer re- 
spected the barrier of the Danube. The impunity of 
rapine had increased the boldness and numbers of the 
wild Isaurians : those robbers descended from their 
craggy mountains to ravage the adjacent country, and 
had even presumed, though without success, to besiege 
the important city of Seleucia, which was defended by 
a garrison of three Roman legions. Above all, the 
Persian monarch, elated by victory, again threatened 
the peace of Asia, and the presence of the emperor was 
indispensably required both in the "^^'e5t and in the 
East. For the first time, Constantius sincerely ac- 
knowledged that his single strength was unequal to 
such an extent of care and of dominion. Insensible to 
the voice of flattery, which assured him that his all- 
powerful virtue and celestial fortune would still con- 
tinue to triumph over every obstacle, he listened with 
complacency to the advice of Eusebia, which gratified 
his indolence, without offending his suspicious pride. 
As she perceived that the remembrance of Gallus dwelt 
on the emperor's mind, she artfully turned his attention 

21 Libanius and Gregory Nazianzen have exhausted the arts 
as well as the powers of their eloquence, to represent Julian as 
the first of heroes, or the worst of tyrants. Gregory was his 
fellow-student at Athens ; and the symptoms, which he so 
tragically describes, of the future wickedness of the apostate 
amount only to some bodily imperfections and to some p>ecu- 
liarities in his speech and manner. He protests, however, that 
he then foresaw and foretold the calamities of the church 
and state. 

vol,. II. ^ 


to the opposite characters of the two brothers, which 
from their infancy had been compared to those of 
Domitian and of Titus. She accustomed her husband 
to consider Julian as a youth of a mild unambitious 
disposition, whose allegiance and gratitude might be 
secured by the gift of the purple, and who was qualified 
to fill, with honour, a subordinate station, without 
aspiring to dispute the commands, or to shade the 
glories, of his sovereign and benefactor. After an 
obstinate, though secret, struggle, the opposition of 
the favourite eunuchs submitted to the ascendency of 
the empress ; and it was resolved that Julian, after 
celebrating his ]iu))tials with Helena, sister of Cou- 
stantius, should be appointed, with the title of Caesar, 
to reign over the countries beyond the Alps. 

Although the order which recalled him to court was 
probably accompanied by some intimation of his ap- 
proaching greatness, he appeals to the people of Athens 
to witness his tears of undissembled sorrow, when he 
was reluctantly torn away from his beloved retirement. 
He trembled for his life, for his fame, and even for 
his virtue ; and his sole confidence was derived from 
the pex'suasion that Minerva inspired all his actions, 
and that he was protected by an invisible guard of 
angels, whom for that purpose she had borrowed from 
the Sun and Moon. He approached with horror the 
palace of Milan ; nor could the ingenuous youth con- 
ceal his indignation, when he found himself accosted 
with false and servile respect by the assassins of his 
family. Eusebia, rejoicing in the success of her bene- 
volent schemes, embraced him with the tenderness 
of a sister ; and endeavoured, by the most soothing 
caresses, to dispel his terrors and reconcile him to his 
fortune. But the ceremony of shaving his beard, and 
his awkward demeanour, when he first e.vchanged the 
cloak of a Greek philosopher for the military habit of 
a Roman prince, amused, during a few days, the levity 
of the Imperial court. ^■- 

22 Julian himself relates (p. 274), with some humour, the 
circumstances of his own metamorphosis, his downcast looks, 


The emperors of the a^e of Coustaiitiue no loager 
deigned to consult with the senate in the choice of a 
colleague ; but they were anxious that their nomination 
should be ratified by the consent of the army. On 
this solemn occasion, the guards, with the other troops 
whose stations were in the neighbourhood of Milan, 
appeared under arms ; and Constantius ascended his 
lofty tribunal, holding by the hand his cousin Julian, 
who entered the same day into the twenty-fifth year 
of his age. In a studied speech, conceived and de- 
livered with dignity, the emperor represented the 
various dangers which threatened the prosperity of 
the republic, the necessity of naming a Caesar for the 
administration of the ^Vest, and his own intention, if 
it was agreeable to their wishes, of rewarding with the 
honours of the purple the promising virtues of the 
nephew of Constantine. The approbation of the 
soldiers was testified by a respectful murmur : they 
gazed on the manly countenance of Julian, and observed 
with pleasure that the fire which sparkled in his eyes 
was tempered by a modest blush, on being thus ex- 
posed, for the first time, to the public view of mankind. 
As soon as the ceremony of his investiture had been 
performed, Constantius addressed him with the tone of 
authority which his superior age and station permitted 
him to assume ; and_, exhorting the new Csesar to 
deserve, by heroic deeds, that sacred and immort.-il 
name, the emperor gave his colleague the strongest 
assurances of friendship which should never be impaire<l 
by time, nor interrupted by their separation into the 
most distant climates. As soon as the speech was 
ended, the troops, as a token of applause, clashed their 
shields against their knees ; while the officers who 
surrounded the tribunal expressed, with decent reserve, 
their sense of the merits of the representative of Con- 

The two princes returned to the palace in the same 

and his perplexity at being thus suddenly transported into 
a new world, where every object appeared strange and 


chariot ; and_, during the slow procession, Julian re- 
peated to himself a verse of his favourite Homer, 
which he might equally apply to his fortune and to his 
fears.^^ The four-and-tvrenty days which the Caesar 
spent at Milan after his investiture, and the first 
months of his Gallic reign, were devoted to a splendid 
but severe captivity ; nor could the acquisition of 
honour compensate for the loss of freedom. 2* His 
steps were watched, his correspondence was inter- 
cepted ; and he was obliged, by prudence, to decline 
the visits of his most intimate friends. Of his former 
domestics, four only were permitted to attend him ; 
two pages, his physician, and his librarian : the last of 
whom was employed in the care of a valuable collection 
of books, the gift of the empress, who studied the 
inclinations as well as the interest of her friend. In 
the room of these faithful servants, an household was 
formed, such indeed as became the dignity of a Caesar ; 
but it was filled with a crowd of slaves, destitute and 
perhaps incapable of any attachment for their new 
master, to whom, for the most part, they were either 
unknown or suspected. His vvant of experience might 
require the assistance of a wise council ; but the 
miTinte instructions which regulated the service of his 
table, and the distribution of his hours, were adapted 
to a youth still under the discipline of his preceptors, 
rather than to the situation of a prince entrusted 
with the conduct of an im])ortant war. If he aspired 
to deserve the esteem of his subjects, he was checked 

23 fSXa^e irop(pvc€o^ ddvaro^ Kal noTpa Kparai-^. The word 
purple, which Homer had used as a vague bui common epithet 
for death, was applied by Julian to express, very aptly, the 
nature and object of his own apprehensions. 

2^ He represents in the most pathetic terms (p. 277 [357]) the 
distress of his new situation. The provision for his table was, 
however, so elegant and sumptuous that the young philosopher 
rejected it with disdain. Quum legeret libellum assidue, quern 
Constantius ut privignum ad studia mittens manu sua con- 
scripserat, prselicenter disponens quid in convivio Csesaris 
impendi deberet, phasianum et vulvam et sumen exigi vetuit et 
inferri. Ammian, Marcellin. 1. xvi, c. 5. 


by the fear of displeasing his sovereign ; and even the 
fruits of his marriage-bed were blasted by the jealous 
artifices of Eusebia herself, who, on this occasion alone, 
seems to have been unmindful of the tenderness of 
ner sex and the generosity of her character. The 
memory of his father and of his brothers reminded 
Julian of his own danger, and his apprehensions were 
increased by the recent and unworthy fate of Sylvan us. 
In the summer which preceded his own elevation, that 
general had been chosen to deliver Gaul from the 
tyranny of the Barbarians ; but Sylvanus soon dis- 
covered that he had left his most dangerous enemies 
in the Imperial court. A dexterous informer, counte- 
nanced by several of the principal ministers, procured 
from him some recommendatory letters ; and erazing 
the whole of the contents, except the signature, filled 
up the vacant parchment with matters of high and 
treasonable import. By the industry and courage of 
his friends, the fraud was however detected, and in a 
great council of the civil and military officers, held in 
the presence of the emperor himself, the innocence of 
Sylvanus was publicly acknowledged. But the dis- 
covery came too late ; the report of the calumny and 
the hasty seizure of his estate had already provoked 
the indignant chief to the rebellion of which he was 
so unjustly accused. He assumed the purple at his 
head-quarters of Cologne, and his active powers ap- 
peared to menace Italy with an invasion, and Milan 
with a siege. In this emergency, Ursicinus, a general 
of equal rank, regained, by an act of treachery, the 
favour which he had lost by his eminent services in 
the East. Exasperated, as he might speciously allege, 
by injuries of a similar nature, he hastened with a few 
followers to join the standard, and to betray the con- 
fidence, of his too credulous friend. After a reign of 
only twenty-eight days, Sylvanus was assassinated : 
the soldiers who, without any criminal intention, had 
blindly followed the example of their leader, imme- 
diately returned to their allegiance ; and the flatterers 
of Coustantius celebrated the wisdom and felicity of 


the monarch who had exting-uished a civil war without 
t)ie hazard of a hattle.^^ 

The protection of the Rhsetian frontier, and the 
persecution of the Catholic Churchy detained Con- 
Ptantius in Italy above eighteen months after the 
departure of Julian. Before the emperor returned 
into the East, he indulged his pride and curiosity in a 
visit to the ancient capital. He proceeded from Milan 
to Rome along the jjKniilian and Flaminian ways ; and, 
as soon as he approached within forty miles of the city, 
the march of a prince who had never vanqui.shed a 
foreign enemy assumed the appearance of a triumphal 
procession. His splendid train was composed of all the 
ministers of luxury ; but in a time of profound peace, 
he was encompassed by the glittering" arms of the 
numerous squadrons of his guards and cuirassiers. 
Their streaming banners of silk, embossed with gold 
and shaped in the form of dragons, waved round the 
person of the emperor. Constantius sat alone in a 
lofty car resplendent with gold and precious gems ; 
and, except when he bowed his head to pass under the 
gates of the cities, he affected a stately demeanour of 
inflexible and, as it might seem, of insensible gravity. 
The severe discipline of the Persian youth had been 
introduced by the eunuchs into the Imperial palace ; 
and such were the habits of patience which they had 
inculcated that, during a slow and sultry march, he 
was never seen to move his hand towards his face or to 
turn his eyes either to the right or to the left. He 
was received by the magistrates and senate of Rome ; 
and the emperor surveyed, with attention, the civil 
honours of the republic and the consular images of the 
noble families. The streets were lined with an in- 
numerable multitude. Their repeated acclamations 
expressed their joy at beholding, after an absence of 
thirty-two years, the sacred person of their sovereign ; 
and Constantius himself expressed, with some pleasantry, 

25 Ammianus (xv. 5) was perfectly well informed of the 
conduct and fate of Sylvanus. He himself was one of the few 
followers who attended Ursicinus in his dangerous enterprise. 


his affected surprise that the human race should thus 
suddenly be collected on the same spot. The son 
of Constantine was lodged in the ancient palace of 
Augustus : he presided in the senate, harangued the 
people from the tribunal which Cicero had so often 
ascended, assisted with unusual courtesy at the games 
of the circus, and accepted the crowns of gold as well 
as the panegyrics which had been prepared for this 
ceremony by the deputies of the principal cities. His 
short visit of thirty days was employed in viewing the 
monuments of art and power which were scattered over 
the seven hills and the interjacent valleys. He admired 
the awful majesty of the capitol, the vast extent of the 
baths of Caracalla and Diocletian, the severe simplicity 
of the Pantheon, the massy greatness of the amphi- 
theatre of Titus, the elegant architecture of the theatre 
of Pompey and the Temple of Peace, and, above all, 
the stately structure of the Forum and column of 
Trajan ; acknowledsring that the voice of fame, so prone 
to invent and to magnify, had made an inadequate re- 
port of the metropolis of the world. I'he traveller, 
who has contemplated the ruins of ancient Rome, may 
conceive some imperfect idea of the sentiments which 
they must have inspired when they reared their heads 
in the splendour of unsullied beauty. 

The satisfaction which Constantius had received 
from this journey excited him to the generous emula- 
tion of bestowing on the Romans some memorial of 
his own gratitude and munificence. His first idea 
was to imitate the equestrian and colossal statue 
which he had seen in the Forum of Trajan ; but, when 
he had maturely weiofhed the difficulties of the execu- 
tion,^^ he chose rather to embellish the capital by the 

26 Hormisdas, a fugitive prince of Persia, observed to the 
emperor that, if he made such a horse, he must think of pre- 
paring a similar stable (the Forum of Trajan). Another saying 
of Hormisdas is recorded, " that one thing only had displeased 
him, to find that men died at Rome as well as elsewhere." If 
we adopt this reading of the text of Ammianus (displicuisse in- 
stead oi placvisse), we may consider it as a reproof of Roman 
vanity. The contrary sense would be that of a misanthrope. 


gift of an Egyptian obelisk. In a remote but polished 
age, which seems to have preceded the invention of 
alphabetical writing, a great number of these obelisks 
had been erected, in the cities of Thebes and HelJo- 
polis, by the ancient sovereigns of Egypt, in a just 
confidence that the simplicity of their form and the 
hardness of their substance would resist the injuries of 
time and violence.-'^ Several of these extraordinary 
columns had been transported to Rome by Augustus 
and his successors, as the most durable monuments of 
their power and victory ; but there remained one 
obelisk which, from its size or sanctity, escaped for a 
long time the rapacious vanity of the conquerors. It 
was designed by Coustantine to adorn his new city ; 
and, after being removed by his order from the pedestal 
where it stood before the Temple of the Sun at Helio- 
polis, was floated down the Nile to Alexandria. The 
death of Constantiue suspended the execution of his 
purpose, and this obelisk was destined by his son to 
the ancient capital of the empire. A vessel of un- 
common strength and capaciousness was provided to 
convey this enormous weight of granite, at least an 
hundred an fifteen feet in length, from the banks of 
the Nile to those of the Tiber. The obelisk of Con- 
stant! us was landed about three miles from the city, 
and elevated by the efforts of art and labour, in the 
great Circus of Rome. 

The departure of Constantius from Rome was 
hastened by the alarming intelligence of the distress 
and danger of the Ulyriau provinces. Tlie distractions 
of civil war, and the irreparable loss which the Roman 
legions had sustained in the battle of Mursa, exposed 
those countries, almost without defence, to the light 
cavalry of the Barbarians ; and particularly to the 

27 When Germanicus visited the ancient monuments of Thebes, 
the eldest of the priests explained to him the meaning of these 
hieroglyphics. Tacit. Annal. ii. c. 60. But it seems probable 
that before the useful invention of an alphabet these natural or 
arbitary signs were the common characters of the Egyptian 


inroads of the Quadi, a fierce and powerful nation, 
v\li.> ?eem to have exchang^ed the institutions of 
Germany for the arms and military arts of their 
Sarmatian allies. The garrisons of the frontier were 
insufficient to check their progress ; and the indolent 
monarch was at length compelled to assemble, from 
the extremities of his dominions, the flower of the 
Palatine troops, to take the field in person, and to 
employ a whole campaig-n, with the preceding autumn 
and the ensuing spring, in the serious prosecution of 
the war. The emperor passed the Danube on a bridge 
of boats, cut in pieces all that encountered his march, 
penetrated into the heart of the country of the Quadi, 
and severely retaliated the calamities which they had 
inflicted on the Roman province. The dismayed 
Barbarians were soon reduced to siie for peace : they 
offered the restitution of his captive subjects as an 
atonement for the past, and the noblest hostages as a 
pledgre of their future conduct. The generous ctourtesy 
which was shown to the first among their chieftains 
who implored the clemency of Constantius encouraged 
the more timid, or the more obstinate, to imitate their 
examples ; and the Imperial camp was crowded with 
the princes and ambassadors of the most distant tribes, 
who occupied the plains of the Lesser Poland, and 
who might have deemed themselves secure behind 
the lofty ridge of the Carpathian mountains. Whil^ 
Constantius gave laws to the Barbarians beyond the 
Danube, he distinguished with specious compassion 
the Sarmatian exiles who had been expelled from their 
native country by the rebellion of their slaves, and 
wlio formed a very considerable accession to the 
power of the Quadi. The emperor, embracing a 
generous but artful system of policy, released the 
Sarmatians from the bands of this humiliating- de- 
pendence, and restored them, by a separate treaty, to 
the dignity of a nation united under the government 
of a king, the friend and ally of the republic. He 
declared his resolution of asserting the justice of their 
cause, and of securing the peace of the provinces by 

vol.. II. K 2 


tlie extirpation, or at least the bauishment, of the 
Liriiigaiites, whose manners were still infected witli 
the vices of their servile origin. The execution of 
this desig-n was attended with more difficulty than 
^lory. The territory of the Limigantes was protected 
against the Romans by the Danube, against the ho-stile 
Barbarians by the Theiss. The marshy lands which 
lay between those rivers, and were often covered by 
their inundations, formed an intricate wilderness, 
pervious only to the inhabitants, who were acquainted 
with its secret paths and inaccessible fortresses. On 
the approach of Constantius, the Limigantes tried the 
efficacy of prayers, of fraud, and of arms ; but he 
sternly rejected their supplications, defeated their 
rude stratagems, and repelled with skill and firmness 
the efforts of their irregular valour. One of their 
most warlike tribes, est;iblished in a small island 
towards the conflux of the Theiss and the Danube, 
consented to pass the river with the intention of 
surprising the emperor during the security of an 
amicable conference. They soon became the victims 
of the perfidy which they meditated. Encompassed on 
every side, trampled down by the cavalry, slaughtered 
by the swords of the legions, they disdained to ask for 
mercy ; and with an undaunted countenance still 
grasped their weapons in the agonies of death. After 
this victory a considerable body of Romans was landed 
on the opposite banks of the Danube ; the Taifake, a 
Gothic tribe engaged in the service of the empire, 
invaded the Limigantes on the side of the Theiss ; and 
their former masters, the free Sarmatians, animated 
by hope and revenge, penetrated through tlie hilly 
country into the heart of their ancient possessions. 
A general conflagration revealed the huts of the 
Barbarians, which were seated in the depth of tlie 
wilderness ; and the soldier fought with confidence on 
marshy ground, which it was dangerous for him to 
tread. In this extremity the bravest of the Limigantes 
were resolved to die in arms, rather than to yield : 
but the milder sentiment, enforced by the authority 


of their elders^ at lentrth pi-evailed ; and the suppliant 
crovvd^ followed by their wives and children, repaired 
to the Imperial camp_, to learn their fate from the 
mouth of the conqueror. After celebrating his own 
clemency, which was still inclined to pardon their 
repeated crimes and to spare the remnant ox" a guilty 
nation, Constantius assigned for the place of their 
exile a remote country, where they mig-ht enjoy a safe 
and honourable repose. The Limigantes obeyed with 
reluctance ; but before they could reach, at least 
before they could occupy, their destined habitations, 
they returned to the banks of the Danube, exaggerat- 
ing the hardships of their situation, and requesting, 
with fervent professions of fidelity, that the emperor 
would grant them au undisturbed settlement within 
the limits of the Roman provinces. Instead of con- 
sulting his own experience of their incurable perfidy, 
Constantius listened to his flatterers, who were ready 
to represent the honour and advantage of accepting a 
colony of soldiers, at a time when it was much easier 
to obtain the pecuniary contributions than the military 
service of the subjects of the empire. The Limigantes 
were permitted to pass the Danube ; and the emperor 
gave audience to the multitude in a large plain near 
the modern city of Buda. They surrounded the 
tribunal, and seemed to hear with respect an oration 
full of mildness and dignity ; when one of the Bar- 
barians, casting his shoe into the air, exclaimed with a 
loud voice, Marha! Marha ! a word of defiance, which 
was received as the signal of the tumult. They rushed 
with fury to seize the person of the emperor ; his 
royal throne and golden couch were pillaged by these 
rude hands ; but the faithful defence of his guards, 
who died at his feet, allowed him a moment to mount 
a fleet horse, and to escape fi-om the confusion. The 
disgrace which had been incurred by a treacherous 
surprise was soon retrieved by the numbers and dis- 
cipline of the Romans ; and the combat was only 
tenninated by the extinction of the name and nation 
of the Limigantes. The free Sarmatiaus were rein- 


stated in the possession of their ancient seats ; and, 
although Constantiiis distrusted the levity of their 
character, he entertained some hopes that a sense of 
gratitude might influence their future conduct. He 
had remarked the lofty stature and obsequious de- 
meanour of Zizais, one of the noblest of their chiefs. 
He conferred on him the title of King ; and Zizais 
proved that lie was not unworthy to reign by a sincere 
and lasting attachment to the interest of his benefactor, 
who, after this splendid success, received the name ot 
SnrmaticMS from the acclamations of his victorious 

While the Roman emperor and the Persian monarch, 
at the distance of three thousand miles, defended their 
extreme limits against the Barbarians of the Danube 
and of theOxus, their intermediate frontier experienced 
the vicissitudes of a languid war, and a precarious 
truce. Two of the eastern ministers of Constantius, 
the Prfetorian prfefect Musonian, whose abilities were 
disgraced by the want of truth and integrity, and 
Cnssian, duke of Mesopotamia, a hardy and veteran 
soldier, opened a secret negotiation with the satrap 
Tamsapor. These overtures of peace, translated into 
the servile and flattering language of Asia, were trans- 
mitted to the camp of the Great King ; who resolved 
to signify, by an ambassador, the terms which he was 
inclined to grant to the suppliant Romans. Narses. 
whom he invested with that character, was honourably 
received in his passage through Antioch and Con- 
stantinople : he reached Sirmium after a long journey, 
and, at his first audience, respectfully unfolded the 
silken veil which covered the haughty epistle of his 
sovereign. Sapor, King of Kings, and Brother^of the 
Sun and Moon (such were the lofty titles afl'ected by 
oriental vanity), expressed his satisfaction that his 
brother, Constantius Caesar, had been taught wisdom 
by adversity. As the lawful successor of Darius 
Plystaspes, Sapor asserted that the river Strymon in 
Macedonia was the true and ancient boundary of his 
empire ; declaring, however, that, as an evidence of 


his moderation, he would couteut himself with the 
provinces of Armenia and Mesopotamia, which had 
been fraudulently extorted from his ancestors. He 
alleged that, without the restitution of these disputed 
countries, it was impossible to establish any treaty 
on a solid and permanent basis ; and he arrogantly 
threatened that, if his ambassador returned in vain, 
he was prepared to take the field in the spring, and to 
support the justice of his cause by the strength of his 
invincible arms. Xarses, who was endowed with the 
most polite and amiable manners, endeavoured, as far 
as was consistent with his duty, to soften the harshness 
of the message. Both the style and the substance 
were maturely weighed in the Imperial council, and 
he was dismissed with the following answer : " Con- 
stant! us had a right to disclaim the olficiousness of his 
ministers, who had acted without any specific orders 
from the throne : he was not, however, averse to an equal 
and honourable treaty ; but it was highly indecent, as 
well as absurd, to propose to the sole and victorious 
emperor of the Roman world the same conditions of 
peace which he had indignantly rejected at the time 
when his power was contracted within the narrow 
limits of the East : the chance of arms was uncertain ; 
ami Sapor should recollect that, if the Romans had 
sometimes been vanquished in battle, they had almost 
always been successful in the event of the war." A 
few days after the departure of Narses, three am- 
bassadors were sent to the court of Sapor, who was 
already returned from the Scythian expedition to his 
ordinary residence of Ctesiphon. A count, a notary, 
and a sophist had been selected for this important com- 
mission ; and Constautius, who was secretly anxious 
for the conclusion of the peace, entertained some hopes 
that the dignity of the first of these ministers, the 
dexterity of the second, and the rhetoric of the third ^ 

28 The sophist, or philosopher (in that age these words were 
ahnost synonymous), was Eustathius the Cappadocian, the 
disciple of Jamblichus, and the friend of St. Basil. Eunapius 


would persuade the Persian monarch to abate the rigour 
of his demands. But the progress of their neijotia- 
tion was opposed and defeated by the hostile arts of 
Antoninus.-^ a Roman subject of Syria^ who had fled 
from oppression, and was admitted into the councils of 
Sapor, and even to the royal table, where, according 
to the custom of the Persians, the most important 
business was frequently discussed. ^^ The dexterous 
fugitive promoted his interest by the same conduct 
which gratified his revenge. He incessantly urged the 
ambition of his new master to embrace the favourable 
opportunity when the bravest of the Palatine troops 
were employed with the emperor in a distant war on 
the Danube. He pressed Sapor to invade the exhausted 
and defenceless provinces of the East, with the numerous 
armies of Persia, now fortified by the alliance and 
accession of the fiercest Barbai-ians. The ambassadors 
of Rome retired without success, and a second embassy of 
a still more honourable rank was detained in strict con- 
finement, and threatened either with death or exile. 

The military historian, who was himself despatched 
to observe the army of the Persians, as they were pre- 
paring to construct a bridge of boats over the Tigris, 
beheld from an eminence the plain of Assyria, as far 
as the edge of the horizon, covered with men, with 
horses, and with arms. Sapor appeared in the front, 
conspicuous by the splendour of his purple. On his 
left hand, the place of honour among the Orientals, 
Grumbates, kiu^ of the Chionites, displayed the stern 

(in vit. /Edesii, pp. 44-47) fondly attributes to this philosophic 
ambassa ior the glory of enchanting the Barbarian king by the 
persuasive charms of reason and eloquence. 

2" The decent and respectful behaviour of Antoninus towards 
the Roman general sets him in a very interesting light : and 
Aramianus himself speaks of the traitor with some compassion 
and esteem. 

30 This circumstance, as it is noticed by Ammianus, serves to 
prove the veracity of Herodotus (1. i. c. 133), and the perman- 
ency of the Persian manners. In every age the Persians have 
been addicted to intemperance, and the wines of Shiraz have 
triumphed over the law of Mahomet. 


countenance of an ag-ed and renowned warrior. The 
monarcli bad reserved a similar place on his ri^ht 
hand for the kin^ of the Albanians, who led his in- 
dependent tribes from the shores of the Caspian. Tlie 
Sfitraps and generals M-ere distributed according to 
their several ranks, and the whole army, besides the 
numerous train of oriental luxury, consisted of more 
than one hundred thousand eft'ective men, inured to 
fatigue, and selected from the bravest nations of Asia. 
The Roman deserter, who in some measure guided the 
councils of Sapor, had prudently advised that, instead 
of wasting the summer in tedious and difficult sieges, 
he should march directly to the Euphrates, and press 
forwards without delay to seize the feeble and wealthy 
metropolis of Syria. But the Persians were no sooner 
advanced into the plains of Mesopotamia than they 
discovered that every precaution had been used which 
could retard their progress or defeat their design. 
The inhabitants, with their cattle, were secured in 
places of strength, the green forage throughout the 
country was set on fire, the fords of the river were 
fortified by sharp stakes ; military engines were planted 
on the opposite banks, and a seasonable swell of the 
waters of the Euphrates deterred the Barbarians from 
attempting the ordinary passage of the bridge of 
Thapsacus. Their skilful guide, changing his plan 
of operations, then conducted the army by a longer 
circuit, but through a fertile territory, towards the 
head of the Euphrates, where the infant river is re- 
duced to a shallow and accessible stream. Sapor over- 
looked, with prudent disdain, the strength of Nisibis ; 
but, as he passed under the walls of Amida, he resolved 
to try whether the majesty of his presence would not 
awe the garrison into immediate submission. The 
sacrilegious insult of a random dart, which glanced 
against the royal tiara, convinced him of his error ; 
and the indignant monarch listened with impatience 
to the advice of his ministers, who conjured him not 
to sacrifice the success of his ambition to the gratifica- 
tion of his resentment. The following day Grum bates 


advauced towards the gates with a select body of troops, 
aud required the iustaut surrender of the city as the 
ouly atonement which could be accepted for such an 
act of rashness and insolence. His proposals were 
answered by a general discharge, aud his only sou, a 
beautiful and valiant youth, was pierced through the 
heart by a javelin, shot from one of the balistae. The 
funeral of the prince of the Chionites was celebrated 
according to the rites of his country ; and the grief of 
his aged father was alleviated by the solemn promise 
of Sapor that the guilty city of Amida should serve as 
a funeral pile to expiate the death, and to perpetuate 
the memory, of his sou. 

The ancient city of Amid or Amida, which sometimes 
assumes the provincial appellation of Diarbekir,^! is 
advantageously situate in a fertile plain, watered by 
the natural and artiticial channels of the Tigris, of 
which the least inconsidsrable stream l>ends in a semi- 
circular form round the eastern part of the city. The 
emperor Constantius had recently conferred on Amida 
the honour of his own name, and the additional forti- 
fications of strong walls aud lofty towers. It was pro- 
vided with an arsenal of military engines, and the 
ordinary garrison had been reinforced to the amount 
of seven legions, when the place was invested by the 
arms of Sapor. His first aud most sanguine hopes 
depended on the success of a general assault. To the 
several nations which followed his standard their re- 
spective posts were assigned ; the south to the Vert*, 
the north to the Albanians, the east to the Chionites, 
inflamed with grief and indignation ; the west to the 
Segestans, the bravest of his warriors, who covered 
their front with a formidable line of Indian elephants. ^'^ 

31 Diarbekir, which is styled Amid, or Kara-Amid, in the 
public writings of the Turks, contains above 16,000 houses, and 
is the residence of a pasha with three tails. The epithet of 
Kara is derived from the blackness of the stone which composes 
the strong and ancient wall of Amida. 

32 Of these four nations, the Albanians are too well known to 
require any description. The Segestans inhabited a large and 
level country, which still preserves their name, to the south of 


The Persians, ou every side, supported their efforts, 
and aiiiniated their couraj^e ; aud the monarch himself, 
careless of his rank aud safety^ displayed, iu the pro- 
secution of the siej^e, the ardour of a youthful snidier. 
After au obstinate combat the Barbarians vvere re- 
pulsed ; they incessantly returned to the charjt^e ; they 
were again driven back with a dreadful slaughter, 
and two rebel legions of Gauls, who had been banished 
into the East, signalised their undisciplined courage 
by a nocturnal sally into the heart of the Persian camp. 
In one of the fiercest of these repeated assaults, Amida 
was betrayed by the treachery of a deserter, who in- 
dicated to the Barbarians a secret and neglected stair- 
case, scooped out of the rock that hangs over the 
stream of the Tigris. Seventy chosen archers of the 
royal guard ascended in silence to the third story of 
a lofty tower which commanded the precipice ; they 
elevated on high the Persian banner, the signal of 
confidence to the assailants and of dismay to the be- 
sieged ; and, if this devoted band could have maintained 
their post a few minutes longer, the reduction of the 
place might have been purchased by the sacrifice of 
their lives. After Sapor had tried, without success, 
the eflScacy of force aud of stratagem, he had recourse 
to the slower but more certain operations of a regular 
siege, in the conduct of which he was instructed by 
the skill of the Roman deserters. The trenches were 
opened at a convenient distance, and the troops 
destined for that service advanced under the portable 
cover of strong hurdles, to fill up the ditch and under- 
mine the foundations of the walls. Wooden towers 
were at the same time constructed, and moved forwards 
on wheels, till the soldiers, who were provided with 
every species of missile weapons, could engage almost 

Ktiorasan, and the west of Hindostan. Notwithstanding the 
boasted victory of Bahram, the Segestans, above fourscore years 
afterwards, appear as an independent nation, the ally of Persia, 
We are ignorant of the situation of the Vertae and Chionites, 
but I am inclined to place them (at least the latter) towards 
the confines of India and Scythia. 


on level ground with the troops who defended the 
rampart. Every mode of resistance which art could 
su^g"est, or courage could execute, was employed in 
the defence of Amida, and the works of Sapor were 
more than once der:troyed by the fire of the Romans. 
But the resources of a besieged city maybe exhausted. 
Tlie Persians repaired their losses, and pushed their 
approaches ; a larare breach was made by the battering- 
ram, and the strensth of the garrison, wasted by the 
sword and by disease, yielded to the fury of the assault. 
The soldiers, the citizens, their wives, their children, 
all who had not time to escape through the opposite 
gate, were involved by the conquerors in a promiscuous 

But the ruin of Amida was the safety of the Roman 
provinces. As soon as the first transports of victory 
had subsided. Sapor was at leisure to reflect that, to 
cliastise a disobedient city, he had lost the flower of 
his troops, and the most favourable season for con- 
quest.^-' Thirty thousand of his veterans had fallen 
under the walls of Amida during the continuance of a 
siege which lasted seventy-three days ; and the disap- 
pointed monarch returned to his capital with afl'ected 
triumph and secret mortification. It was more than 
probable that the inconstancy of his Barbarian allies 
was tempted to relinquish a war in which they had 
encountered such unexpected difficulties ; and that the 
aged king of the Chionites, satiated with revenge, 

^^- Ammianus has marked the chronology of this year by three 
signs, which do not perfectly coincide with each other, or with 
the series of the history, i. The corn was ripe when Sapor in- 
vaded Mesopotamia ; " Cum jam stipulA flavente turgerent ; " 
a circumstance which, in the latitude of Aleppo, would naturally 
refer us to the month of April or May. 2. The progress of 
Sapor was checked by the overflowing of the Euphrates, which 
generally happens in July and August. When Sapor had taken 
Amida, after a siege of seventy-three days, the autumn was far 
advanced. " Autumno prrecipifi haedorumque improbo sidere 
exorto." To reconcile these apparent contradictions, we must 
allow for some delay in the Persian king, some inaccuracy in 
the historian, and some disorder in the seasons. 


turned away witli horror from a scene of action where 
he had been deprived of the hope of his family and 
nation. The strength as well as spirit of the army 
with which Sapor took the field in the ensuing spring 
was no longer equal to the unbounded views of his 
ambition. Instead of aspiring to the conquest of the 
East, he was obliged to content himself with the 
reduction of two fortified cities of Mesopotamia, 
Singara and Bezabde ; the one situate in the midst of 
8 sandy desert, the other in a small peninsula, sur- 
rounded almost on every side by the deep and rapid 
stream of the Tigris. Five Roman legions, of the 
diminutive size to which they had been reduced in the 
age of Constantine, were made prisoners, and sent into 
remote captivity on the extreme confines of Persia. 
After dismantling the walls of Singara, the conqueror 
abandoned that solitary and sequestered place ; but 
he carefully restored the fortifications of Bezabde, and 
fixed in that important post a garrison or colony of 
veterans, amply supplied with every means of defence, 
and animated by high sentiments of honour and fidelity. 
Towards the close of the campaign, the arms of Sapor 
incurred some disgrace by an unsuccessful enterprise 
against Virtha, or Tecrit, a strong, or as it was uni- 
versally esteemed till the age of Tamerlane, an impreg- 
nable fortress of the independent Arabs. 

The defence of the East against the arms of Sapor 
required, and would have exercised, the abilities of the 
most consummate general : and it seemed fortunate 
for the state that it was the actual province of the 
brave Ursicinus, who alone deserved the confidence 
of the soldiers and people. In the hour of danger, 
Ursicinus was removed from his station by the in- 
trigues of the eunuchs ; and the military command of 
the East was bestowed, by the same influence, on 
Sabinian, a wealthy and subtle veteran, who had 
attained the infirmities, without acquiring the experi- 
ence, of age. By a second order, which issued from 
the same jealous and inconstant counsels, Ursicinus 
was again despatched to the frontier of Mesopotamia, 


aud coudemDed to sustain the labours of a war, the 
honours of which had been transferred to his unwortliy 
rival. Sabinian fixed his indolent station under tiie 
walls of Edessa ; and, while he amused himself with 
the idle parade of military exercise, and moved to the 
sound of flutes in the Pyrrhic dance, the public de- 
fence was abandoned to the boldness and diligence 
of the former general of the East. But, whene\er 
Ursicinus recommended any vigorous plan of opera- 
tions ; when he proposed, at the head of a light and 
active army, to wheel round the foot of the mountains, 
to intercept the convoys of the enemy, to harass the 
wide extent of the Persian lines, and to relieve the 
distress of Amida ; the timid and envious commander 
alleged that he was restrained by his positive orders 
from endangering the safety of the troops. Amida 
was at length taken ; its bravest defenders, who 
escaped the sword of the Barbarians, died in the 
Roman camp by the hand of the executioner; and 
Ursicinus himself, after supporting the disgrace of a 
partial inquiry, was punished for the misconduct of 
Sabinian by the loss of his military rank. But Con- 
stantius soon experienced the truth of the prediction 
which honest indignation had extorted from his injured 
lieutenant, that, as long as such maxims of government 
were suffered to prevail, the emperor himself would 
find it no easy task to defend his eastern dominions 
from the invasion of a foreign enemy. When he had 
subdued or pacified the Barbarians of the Danube, 
Constantius proceeded by slow marches into the East : 
and, after he had wept over the smoking ruins of 
Amida, he formed, with a powerful army, the siege of 
Bezuhde. The walls were shaken by the reiterated 
efforts of the most enormous of the battering-rams : 
the town was reduced to the last extremity ; but it 
was still defended by the patient and intrepid valour 
of the garrison, till the approach of the rainy season 
obliged the emperor to raise the siege, and ingloriously 
to retreat into his winter quarters at Antioch. Tlie 
pride of Constantius and the ingenuity of his courtiers 

3no-361 OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE 309 

were at a loss to discover any materials for paneg-yric 
ill the events of the Persian war ; while the glory of his 
cousin Julian, to whose military command he had en- 
trusted the provinces of Gaul, was proclaimed to the 
world in the simple and concise narrative of his exploits. 
In the hlind fury of civil discord. C'onstantius had 
ahandoned to the Barbarians of Germany the countries 
of Gaul, which still acknowledged the authority of his 
rival. A numerous swarm of Franks and Alemanni 
were invited to cross the Rhine by presents and pro- 
mises, by the hopes of spoil, and by a perpetual grant 
of all the territories which they should be able to 
subdue. But the emperor, who for a temporary service 
had thus imprudently provoked the rapacious spirit 
of the Barbarians, soon discovered and lamented the 
difficulty of dismissing these formidable allies, after 
they had tasted the richness of the Roman soil. 
Resrardless of the nice distinction of loyalty and re- 
bellion, these undisciplined robbers treated as their 
natural enemies all the subjects of the empire, who 
possessed any property which they were desirous of 
acquiring. Forty -five flourishing cities, Tongres, 
Coloerne, Treves, Worms, Spires, Strasburg, <Src., 
besides a far greater number of towns and villages, 
we7'e pillaged, and for the most part reduced to ashes. 
TTie Barbarians of Germany, still faithful to the 
maxims of their ancestors, abhorred the confinemient 
of walls, to which they applied the odious names of 
prisons and sepulchres ; and, fi.xing their independent 
habitations on the banks of rivers, the Rhine, the 
Moselle, and the Meuse, they secured themselves 
against the danger of a surprise by a rude and hasty 
fortification of large trees, which were felled and 
thrown across the roads. The Alemanni were estab- 
lished in the modern countries of Alsace and Lorraine ; 
the Franks occupied the island of the Batavians, 
together with an extensive district of Brabant, which 
was then known by the appellation of To.vandrin,^ 

34 Ammianus (xvi. 8). This name seems to be derived from 
the Toxandri of Pliny, and very frequently occurs in the histories 


and may deserve to be considered as the orij^iual seat 
of their Gallic monarchy. -^^ From the sources to the 
mouth of the Rhine, the conquests of the Germans 
extended above forty miles to the west of that river, 
over a country peopled by colonies of their own name 
and nation ; and the scene of their devastations was 
three times more extensive than that of their conquests. 
At a still greater distance the open towns of Gaul were 
deserted, and the inhabitants of the fortified cities, 
who trusted to their strength and vigilance, were 
obliged to content themselves with such supplies of 
corn as they could raise on the vacant land within 
the inclosure of their walls. The diminished legions, 
destitute of pay and provisions, of arms and discipline, 
trembled at the approach, and even at the name, of 
the Barbarians. 

Under these melancholy circumstances, an unex- 
perienced youth was appointed to save and to govern 
the provinces of Gaul, or rather, as he expresses it 
himself, to exhibit the vain image of imperial great- 
ness. The retired scholastic education of Julian, in 
which he had been more conversant with books than 
with arms, with the dead than with the living, left 
him in profound ignorance of the practical arts of war 
and government ; and, when he awkwardly repeated 
some military exercise which it was necessary for him 
to learn, he exclaimed with a sigh, '^ O Plato, Plato, 
what a task for a philosopher ! " Yet even this 

of the middle age. Toxandria was a country of woods and 
morasses which extended from the neighbourhood of Tongres 
to the conflux of the Vahal and the Rhine. 

35 The paradox of P. Daniel, that the Franks never obtained 
any permanent settlement on his side of the Rhine before the 
time of Clovis, is refuted with much learning and good sense by 
M. Biet, who has proved, by a chain of evidence, their uninter- 
rupted possession of Toxandria one hundred and thirty years 
before the accession of Clovis. The Dissertation of M. Biet was 
crowned by the Academy of Soissons in the year 1736, and 
seems to have been justly preferred to the discourse of his more 
celebrated competitor, the Abb6 le Boeuf, an antiquarian vvhose 
name was happily expressive of his talents. 

360-o<jl OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE 311 

speculative philosophy, which men of business are too 
apt to despise, had filled the mind of Julian with the 
noblest precepts and the most shining examples ; had 
animated him with the love of virtue, the desire of 
fame, and the contempt of death. The habits of 
temperance recommended in the schools are still more 
essential in the severe discipline of a camp. The 
simple wants of nature regulated the measure of his 
food and sleep. Rejecting- with disdain the delicacies 
provided for his table, he satisfied his appetite with 
the coarse and common fare which was allotted to the 
meanest soldiers. During the rigour of a Gallic winter, 
he never suifered a fire in his bed-chamber ; and after 
a short and interrupted slumber he frequently rose 
in the middle of the nrght from a carpet spread on 
the floor, to despatch any urgent business, to visit his 
rounds, or to steal a few moments for the prosecution 
of his favourite studies.^^ The precepts of eloquence 
which he had hitherto practised on fancied topics of 
declamation were more usefully applied to excite or 
assuage the passions of an armed multitude : and, 
although Julian, from his early habits of conversation 
and literature, was more familiarly acquainted with 
the beauties of the Greek language, he had attained 
a competent knowledge of the Latin tongue. ^^ Since 
Julian was not originally designed for the character 
of a legislator or a judge, it is probable that the civil 
jurisprudence of the Romans had not engaged any 
considerable share of his attention : but he derived 
from his philosophic studies an inflexible regard for 
justice, tempered by a disposition to clemency ; the 
knowledge of the general principles of equity and 

S8 The private life of Julian in Gaul, and the severe discipline 
which he embraced, are displayed by Ammianus (xvi. 5), v/ho 
professes to praise, and by Julian himself, who affects to ridicule 
(Misopogon, p. 340), a conduct which, in a prince of the houst: 
of Constantine, might justly excue the surprise of mankind. 

37 Aderat Latine quoque disserenti sufficiens sermo. Am- 
mianus, xvi. 5. But Julian, educated in the schools of Greece 
always considered the language of the Romans as a foreign au-i 
popular dialect, which he might use on necessary occasions. 


evidence; and the faculty of patiently investig-atinc: 
the most intricate and tedious questions which could 
he proposed for his discussion. The measures of policy 
and the operations of war must suhmit to the various 
accidents of circumstance and character, and the un- 
practised student will often he perplexed in the 
application of the most perfect theory. But in the 
acquisition of this important science, Julian was 
assisted hy the active vieour of his own genius, as 
well as by the wisdom and experience of Sallust, an 
officer of rank, who soon conceived a sincere attach- 
ment for a prince so worthy of his friendship ; and 
whose incorruptible integrity was adorned by the talent 
of insinuating- the harshest truths without wounding- 
the delicacy of a royal ear.^^ 

Immediately after Julian had received the purple 
at Milan, he was sent iTito Gaul, with a feeble retinue 
of three hundred avid sixty soldiers. At Vienna, where 
he passed a painful and anxious winter, in the hands 
of those ministers to whom Constant! us had entrusted 
the direction of his conduct, the Csesar was informed 
of the sieg-e and deliverance of Autun, That larg-e 
and ancient city, protected only by a ruined wall and 
pusillanimous garrison, was saved by the generous 
resolution of a few veterans, who resumed their arms 
for the defence of their country. In his march from 
Autun through the heart of the Gallic provinces, 
Julian embraced with ardour the earliest opportunity 
of signalising bis courage. At the head of a small 
body of archers and heavy cavalry, he preferred the 
shorter but the more dangerous of two roads ; and 
sometimes eludina:, and sometimes resisting, the attacks 
of the Barbarians, who were masters of the held, he 
arrived with honour and safety at the camp near 

88 We are ig^norant of the actual office of this excellent minister, 
whom Julian afterwards created praefect of Gaul. Sallust was 
speeHily recalled by the jealousy of the emperor; and we may 
still read a sensible but pedantic discourse (pp. 240-252), in 
which Julian deplores the loss of so valuable a friend, to whom 
he acknowledges himself indebted for his reputation. 


Rheims, where the Roman troops had been ordered 
to assemble. The aspect of their young prince revived 
the drooping spirit of the soldiers, and they marched 
from Rheims in search of the enemy, with a confidence 
which had almost proved fatal to them. The Alemanni, 
familiarised to the knowledge of the country, secretly 
collected their scattered forces and, seizing the oppor- 
tunity of a dark and rainy day, poured with unexpected 
fury on the rear-guard of the Romans. Before the 
inevitable disorder could be remedied two legions were 
destroyed ; and Julian was taught by experience that 
caution and vigilance are the most important lessons 
of the art of war. In a second and more successful 
action, he recovered and established his military fame : 
but, as the agility of the Barbarians saved them from 
the pursuit, his victory was neither bloody nor decisive. 
He advanced, however, to the banks of the Rhine, 
surveyed the ruins of Cologne, convinced himself of 
the difficulties of the war, and retreated on the ap- 
proach of winter, discontented with the court, with 
his army, and with his own success.^^ The power of 
the enemy was yet unbroken ; and the Caesar had no 
sooner separated his troops, and fixed his own quarters 
at Sens, in the centre of Gaul, than he was surrounded 
and besieged by a numerous host of Germans. Reduced 
in this extremity to the resources of his own mind, he 
displayed a prudent intrepidity which compensated for 
all the deficiencies of the place and garrison ; and the 
Barbarians, at the end of thirty days, were obliged to 
retire with disappointed rage. 

The conscious pride of Julian, who was indebted 
only to his sword for this signal deliverance, was em- 
bittered by the reflection that he was abandoned, be- 
trayed, and perhaps devoted to destruction, by those 
who were bound to assist him by every tie of honour 
and fidelity. Marcellus, master-general of the cavalry 

39 Ammianus (xvi. 2, 3) appears much better satisfied with 
the success of his first campaign than Juhan himself; who very 
fairly owns that he did nothing of consequence, and that he 
fled before the enemy. 

314 IHP: decline and fall A.D. 

in Gaulj interpreting too strictly the jealous order* of 
the court, beheld with supine indifference the distress 
of Julian, and had restrained the troops under his 
command from marching to tlie relief of Sens. If the 
Cwsar had dissembled in silence so dangerous an insult, 
his person and authority would have been exposed to 
the contempt of the world ; and, if an action so criminal 
had been suffered to pass with impunity, the emperor 
would have confirmed the suspicions which received a 
very specious colour from his past conduct towards the 
princes of the Flavian family, Marcellus was recalled, 
and srently dismissed from his office.^ In his room 
Severus was appointed general of the cavalry ; an 
experienced soldier, of approved courage and fidelity, 
who could advise with respect and execute with zeal ; 
and who submitted, without reluctance, to the supreme 
command which Julian, by the interest of his patroness 
Eusebia, at length obtained over the armies of Gaul 
A very judicious plan of operations was adopted for 
the approaching campaign. Julian himself, at the head 
of the remains of the veteran bands, and of some new 
levies which he had been permitted to form, boldly 
penetrated into the centre of the German cantonments 
and carefully re-established the fortifications of Saverne 
in an advantageous post, which would either check the 
incursions, or intercept the retreat, of the enemy. At 
the same time Barbatio, general of the infantry, ad- 
vanced from Milan with an army of thirty thousand men, 
and passing the mountains prepared to throw a bridge 
over the Rhine, in the neighbourhood of Basil. It 
was reasonable to expect that the Alemanni, pressed 
on either side by the Roman arms, would soon be 
forced to evacuate the provinces of Gaul, and to hasten 
to the defence of their native country. But the hopes 
of the campaign were defeated by the incapacity, or 

4^ Ammian. xvi. 7, Libanius speaks rather more advan- 
tageously of the military talents of Marcellus, Orat. x. p. 272. 
And Julian insinuates that he would not have been so easily 
recalled, unless he had given other reasons of offence to the 
court, p. 278. 



the envy, or the secret instructions, of Barbatio ; who 
acted as if he had been the enemy of the Csesar and 
the secret ally of the Barbarians. The neg^lig-ence with 
which he permitted a troop of pillaffers freely to pass, 
and to return almost before the gates of his camp, 
may be imputed to his want of abilities ; but the treason- 
able act of burning" a number of boats, and a super- 
fluous stock of provisions, which would have been of 
the most essential service to the army of Gaul, was 
an evidence of his hostile and criminal intentions. 
'J'he Germans despised an enemy who appeared 
destitute either of power or of inclination to offend 
them ; and the ignominious retreat of Barbatio de- 
prived Julian of the expected support, and left him 
to extricate himself from a hazardous situation, where 
he could neither remain with safety nor retire with 

As soon as they were delivered from the fears of 
invasion, the Alemanni prepared to chastise the Roman 
youth, who presumed to dispute the possession of that 
country which they claimed as their own by the right 
of conquest and of treaties. They employed three 
days and as many nights in transporting over the 
Rhine their military powers. The fierce Chnodomar, 
shaking the ponderous javelin, which he had victoriously 
wielded against the brother of Magnentius, led the van 
of the Barbarians, and moderated by his experience 
the martial ardour which his example inspired. He 
was followed by six other kings, by ten princes of regal 
extraction, by a long train of high-spirited nobles, and 
by thirty-five thousand of the bravest warriors of the 
tribes of Germany. The confidence derived from the 
view of their own strength was increased by the in- 
telligence which they received from a deserter, that 
the Csesar, with a feeble army of thirteen thousand 
men. occupied a post about one-and-twenty miles from 
their camp of Strasburg. With this inadequate force, 
Julian resolved to seek and to encounter the Barbarian 
host ; and the chance of a general action was preferred 
to the tedious and uncertain operation of separately 


engaging- the dispersed parties of the Alemanni. The 
Romans marched in close order^ and in two column^, 
the cavalry on the right, the infantry on the left ; and 
the day was so far spent when they appeared in sight 
of the enemy, that Julian was desirous of deferring the 
battle till the next morning, and of allowing his troops 
to recruit their exhausted strength by the necessary 
refreshments of sleep and food. Yielding, however, 
with some reluctance to the clamours of the soldiers, 
and even to the opinion of his council, he exhorted 
them to justify by their valour the eager impatience, 
which, in case of a defeat, would be universally branded 
with the epithets of rashness and presumption. Tlie 
trumpets sounded, the military shout was heard through 
the field, and the two armies rushed with equal fury to 
the charge. The Caesar, who conducted in person his 
right wing, depended on the dexterity of his archers, 
and the weight of his cuirassiers. But his ranks were 
instantly broken by an irregular mixture of light-horse 
and of light-infantry, and he had the mortification of 
beholding the flight of six hundred of his most re- 
nowned cuirassiers.^^ The fugitives were stopped and 
rallied by the presence and authority of Julian, who, 
<areless of his owu safety, threw himself before them, 
and, urging every motive of shame and honour, led 
them back against the victorious enemy. The conflict 
between the two lines of infantry was obstinate and 
bloody. The Germans possessed the superiority of 
strength and stature, the Romans that of discipline and 
temper ; and, as the Barbarians who served under tlie 
standard of the empire united the respective advantages 
of both parties, their strenuous etforts, guided by a 
skilful leader, at length determined the event of the 
rlay. The Romans lost four tribunes, and two hundred 
and forty-three soldiers, in this memorable battle of 

*i After the battle, Julian ventured to revive the rigour of 
ancient discipline by exposing these fugitives in female appnrel 
to the derision of the whole camp. In the next campaign, th< se 
troops nobly retrieved their honour. 


Strasburof, so g-lorioiis to the Caesar /^ and so salutary 
to the afflicted provinces of Gaul. Six thousand of the 
Alemaniii were slain in tlie field, without including 
those who were drowned in the Rliine or transfixed with 
darts whilst they attempted to swim across the river. ^^ 
Chnodomar himself was surrounded and taken prisoner, 
with three of his brave companions, who had devoted 
themselves to follow in life or death the fate of their 
chieftain. Julian received him with military pomp in 
the council of his officers ; and, expressing a generous 
pity for the fallen state, dissembled his inward con- 
tempt for the abject humiliation, of his captive. Instead 
of exhibiting the vanquished king of the Alemanni, as 
a iirateful spectacle to the cities oif Gaul, he respectfully 
hiid at the feet of the emperor this splendid trophy of 
his victory. Chnodomar experienced an honourable 
treatment : but the im])atient Barbarian could not 
long survive his defeat, his confinement, and his 

After Julian had repulsed the Alemanni from the 
provinces of the Upper Rhine, he turned his arms 
against the Franks, who were seated nearer to the 
ocean on the confines of Gaul and Germany, and who, 
from their numbers, and still more from their intrepid 
valour, had ever been esteemed the most formidable 

^- Julian himself (ad. S. P. Q. Athen. p. 279) speaks of the 
battle of Strasburg with the modesty of conscious merit ; 
ifj.axfo-(i,ur]v ovk d/cAews. t'crwy Kal els v/ d<piK€TO tj TOLaimj 
fxaxv- Zosimus compares it with the victory of Alexander over 
Darius ; and yet we are at a loss to discover any of those strokes 
of military genius which tix the attention of ages on the conduct 
and success of a single day. 

■^3 Libanius adds 2000 more to the number of the slain 
(Orat. X. p. 274I But these trifling differences disappear before 
the 60,000 Barbarians whom Zosimus has sacrificed to the 
glory of his hero (1. iii. p. 141 \ We might attribute this ex- 
travagant number to the carelessness of transcribers, if this 
credulous or partial historian had not swelled the army of 35,000 
Alemanni to an innumerable multitude of Barbarians, ttXtjOos 
diretpov /Sap/Sdpwi'. It is our own fault if this detection docs not 
inspire us with proper distrust on similar occasions. 


of the Barbariaus. Although they were stroujily 
actuated by the allurements of rapine, they professed 
a disinterested love of war, which they considered ;i^ 
the supreme honour and felicity of human nature ; 
and their minds and bodies were so completely hardene'i 
by perpetual action that, according to the lively ex- 
pression of an orator, the snows of winter were as 
pleasant to them as the flowers of spring. In the 
month of December, which followed the battle of 
Strasburg, Julian attacked a body of six hundred 
Franks, who had thrown themselves into two castles 
on the Meuse. **■* In the midst of that severe season 
they sustained, with inflexible constancy, a siege of 
fifty-four days ; till at length, exhausted by hunger, 
and satisfied that the vigilance of the enemy in break- 
ing the ice of the river left them no hopes of escape, 
the Franks consented, for the first time, to dispense 
with the ancient law which commanded them to 
conquer or to die. The C-aesar immediately sent his 
captives to the court of Constantius, who, accepting 
them as a valuable present, rejoiced in the opportunity 
of adding so many heroes to the choicest troops of his 
domestic guards. Ihe obstinate resistance of this 
handful of Franks apprised Julian of the diflficulties 
of the expedition which he meditated for the ensuing 
spring aii^ainst the whole body of the nation. His 
rapid diligence surprised and astonished tlie active 
Barbarians. Ordering his soldiers to provide them- 
selves with biscuit for twenty days, he suddenly 
pitched his camp near Tongres, while the enemy still 
supposed him in his winter quarters of Paris, expect- 
ing tlie slow arrival of his convoys from Aquitain. 
Without allowing the Franks to unite or to deliberate, 
he skilfully spread his legions from Cologne to the 
ocean ; and by the terror as well as by the success of 

** The Greek orator, by misapprehending a passage of Julian, 
has been induced to represent the Franks as consisting of a 
thousand men ; and, as his head was alw ays full of the Pelopon- 
nesian war. he compares them to the L^acedaemonians, who 
were besieged and taken in the island of Sphacteria. 


his arms soon reduced the suppliant tribes to implore 
the clemency, and to obey the commands, of their 
conqueror. The Chamavians submissively retired to 
their former habitations beyond the Rhine : but the 
Salians were permitted to possess their new establish- 
ment of Toxandria, as the subjects and auxiliaries of 
the Roman Empire. The treaty was ratified by solemn 
oaths ; and perpetual inspectors were appointed to 
reside among- the Franks, with the authority of en- 
forcing the strict observance of the conditions. An 
incident is related, interesting enough in itself, and 
by no means repugnant to the character of Julian, 
who ingeniously contrived both the plot and tiie 
catastrophe of the tragedy. When the Chamavians 
sued for peace, he required the son of their king, as 
the only hostage on whom he could rely. A mournful 
silence, interrupted by tears and groans, declared the 
sad perplexity of the Barbarians ; and their aged chief 
lamented in pathetic language that his private loss 
was now embittered by a sense of the public calamity. 
While the Chamavians lay prostrate at the foot of his 
throne, the royal captive, whom they believed to have 
been slain, unexpectedly appeared before their eyes ; 
and, as soon as the tumult of Joy was hushed into 
attention, the Caesar addressed the assembly in the 
following terms : '' Behold the son, the prince, whom 
you wept. You had lost him by your fault, God and 
the Romans have restored him to you. I shall still 
preserve and educate the youth, ratliei' as a monument 
of my own virtue than as a pledge of your sincerity. 
Should you presume to violate the faith which you 
have sworn, the arms of the republic will avenge the 
perfidy, not on the innocent, but on the guilty," The 
Barbarians withdrew from his presence, impressed 
with the warmest sentiments of gratitude and ad- 

It was not enough for Julian to have delivered the 
provinces of Gaul from the Barbarians of Germany 
He aspired to emulate the glory of the first and most 
illustrious of the emperors ; after whose example Me 


composed his own commentaries of the Gallic war.*^ 
Caesar has related, with conscious pride, the manner 
in which he tmce passed the Rhine. Julian could 
boast that, before he assumed the title of Augustus, 
he had carried the Roman Eag:les beyond that great 
river in three successful expeditions. The consterna- 
tion of the Germans, after the battle of Strashurg, 
encouraged him to the first attempt ; and the reluc- 
tance of the troops soon yielded to the persuasive 
eloquence of a leader who shared the fatigues and 
dangers which he imposed on the meanest of the 
soldiers. The villages on either side of the Main, 
which were plentifully stored with corn and cattle, 
felt the ravages of an invading army. The principal 
houses constructed with some imitation of Roman 
elesrance, were consumed by the flames ; and the 
Caisar boldly advanced about ten miles, till his pro- 
gress was stopped by a dark and impenetrable forest, un- 
dermined by subterraneous passages, which threatened, 
with secret snares and ambush, every step of the 
assailant. The ground was already covered with snow ; 
and Julian, after repairing an ancient castle which 
had been erected by Trajan, granted a truce of ten 
months to the submissive Barbarians. At the expira- 
tion of the truce, Julian undertook a second expedition 
beyond the Rhine, to humble the pride of Surmar and 
Ilortaire, two of the kings of the Alemanni, who had 
been present at the battle of Strasburg. Tliey promised 
to restore all the Roman captives who yet remained 
alive ; and, as the Cjesar had procured an exact account 
from the cities and villages of Gaul, of the inhabitants 
whom they had lost, he detected every attempt to 
deceive him with n degree of readiness and accuracy 

■»* Libanius, the friend of Julian, clearly insinuates (Oral, iv. 
p. 178) that his hero had composed the history of his Gallic 
campaigns. But Zosimus (1. iii. p. 140) seems to have derived 
his information only from the Orations {X6701) and the Epistles 
of Julian. The discourse which is addressed to the Athenians 
contains an accurate, though general, account of the war against 
the Germans. 

357-359 OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE 821 

which almost established the belief of his supernatural 
knowledge. His third expedition was still more 
splendid and important than the two former. The 
Germans had collected their military powers, and 
moved along the opposite banks of the river, with a 
design of destroying the bridge and of preventing the 
passage of the Romans. But this judicious plan of 
defence was disconcerted by a skilful diversion. Three 
hundred light-armed and active soldiers were detached 
in forty small boats, to fall down the stream in silence, 
and to land at some distance from the posts of the 
enemy. They executed their orders with so much 
boldness and celerity that they had almost surprised 
the Barbarian chiefs, who returned in the fearless 
confidence of intoxication from one of their nocturnal 
festivals. Without repeating the uniform and disgust- 
ing tale of slaughter and devastation, it is sufficient to 
observe that Julian dictated his own conditions of peace 
to six of the haughtiest kings of the Alemanni, three 
of whom were permitted to view the severe discipline 
and martial pomp of a Roman camp. Followed by 
twenty thousand captives, whom he had rescued from 
the chains of the Barbarians, the Csesar repassed the 
Rhine, after terminating a war, the success of which 
has been compared to the ancient glories of the Punic 
and Cimbric victories. 

As soon as the valour and conduct of Julian had 
secured an interval of peace, he applied himself to 
a work more congenial to his humane and philosophic 
temper. The cities of Gaul, which had suffered from 
the inroads of the Barbarians, he diligently repaired ; 
and seven important posts, between Mainz and the 
mouth of the Rhine, are particularly mentioned, as 
having been rebuilt and fortified by the order of 
Julian.*^ The vanquished Germans had submitted 

46 Of these seven posts, foiu- are at present towns of some con- 
sequence ; Bingen, Andernach, Bonn, and Neuss. The other 
three, Tricesimas, Quadriburgium , and Castra Herculis, or 
Heraclea, no longer subsist ; but there is i-oom to believe that, 




to the just but humiliating condition of preparing 
and conveying the necessary materials. The active 
zeal of Julian urged the prosecution of the work ; and 
such was the spirit which he had diffused among the 
troops that the auxiliaries themselves^ waving their 
exemption from any duties of fatigue^, contended in 
the most servile labours with the diligence of the 
Roman soldiers. It was incumbent on the Caesar to 
provide for the subsistence, as well as for the safety, 
of the inhabitants and of the garrisons. The desertion 
of the former, and the mutiny of the latter, must have 
been the fatal and inevitable consequences of famine, 
^rhe tillage of the provinces of Gaul had been inter- 
rupted by the calamities of war ; but the scanty 
harvests of the continent were supplied, by his 
paternal care, from the plenty of the adjacent island. 
Six hundred large barks, framed in the forest of the 
Ardennes, made several voyages to the coast of Britain ; 
and, returning from thence laden with corn, sailed up 
the Rhine, and distributed their cargoes to the several 
towns and fortresses along the banks of the river.*'' 
The arms of Julian had restored a free and secure 
navigation, which Constantius had offered to purchase 
at the expense of his dignity, and of a tributary present 
of two thousand pounds of silver. The emperor parsi- 
moniously refused to his soldiers the sums which he 
granted with a lavish and trembling hand to the 
Barbarians. The dexterity, as well as the firmness, 
of Julian was put to a severe trial, when he took the 
field with a discontented army, which had already 

on the ground of Quadriburgium, the Dutch have constructed 
the fort of Schenk, a name so offensive to the fastidious delicacy 
of Boileau. 

•^"^ We may credit Julian himself, Orat. ad. S. P. Q. Athenien- 
sem, p. 280, who gives a very particular account of the transac- 
tion. Zosimus adds two hundred vessels more, I. iii. p. 145. 
If we compute the 600 corn ships of Julian at only seventy tons 
each, they were capable of exporting 120,000 quarters (see 
Arbuthnot's Weights and Measures, p. 237) ; and the country 
which could bear so large an exportation must akeady have 
attained an improved state of agriculture. 


served two campaig^ns without receiving any regular 
pay or any extraordinary donative.*^ 

A tender regard for the peace and happiness of his 
subjects was the ruling principle which directed, or 
seemed to direct, the administration of Julian. He 
devoted the leisure of his winter quarters to the offices 
of civil government, and affected to assume with more 
pleasure the character of a magistrate than that of a 
general. Before he took the field, he devolved on 
the provincial governors most of the public and private 
causes which had been referred to his tribunal ; but, 
on his return, he carefully revised their proceedings, 
mitigated the rigour of the law, and pronounced a 
second judgment on the judges themselves. Superior 
to the last temptation of virtuous minds, an indiscreet 
and intemperate zeal for justice, he restrained, with 
calmness and dignity, the warmth of an advocate 
who prosecuted, for extortion, the president of the 
Narbonnese province. " Who will ever be found 
guilty," exclaimed the vehement Delphidius, "if it 
be enough to deny?" "And who,^' replied Julian, 
''will ever be innocent, if it be sufficient to affirm?" 
In the general administration of peace and war, the 
interest of the sovereign is commonly the same as that 
of his people ; but Coustantius would have thought 
himself deeply injured, if the virtues of Julian had 
defrauded him of any part of the tribute which he 
extorted from an oppressed and exhausted country. 
The prince, who was invested with the ensigns of 
royalty, might sometimes presume to correct the 
rapacious insolence of the inferior agents, to expose 
their corrupt arts, and to introduce an equal and 
easier mode of collection. But the management of 
the finances was more safely entrusted to Florentius, 
Praetorian prefect of Gaul, an effeminate tyrant, in- 
capable of pity or remorse ; and the haughty minister 
complained of the most decent and gentle opposition, 
while Julian himself was rather inclined to censure 

"^ The troops once broke out into a mutiny, immediately 
before the second passage of the Rhine. 


the weakness of liis own behaviour. The Caesar had 
rejected with abhorrence a mandate for the levy of 
an extraordinary tax ; a new superindiction, which 
the praefect had offered for his sig-nature ; and the 
faithful picture of the public misery, by which he 
had been obliged to justify his refusal, offended the 
court of Constantius. We may enjoy the pleasure of 
reading the sentiments of Julian, as he expresses them 
with warmth and freedom in a letter to one of his 
most intimate friends. After stating his own conduct, 
he proceeds in the following terms : *^^ Was it possible 
for the disciple of Plato and Aristotle to act otherwise 
than I have done ? Could I abandon the unhappy 
subjects entrusted to my care.'* Was I not called 
upon to defend them from the repeated injuries of 
these unfeeling robbers.'' A tribune who deserts his 
post is punished with death and deprived of the 
honours of burial. With what justice could 1 pro- 
nounce his sentence, if, in the hour of danger, I 
myself neglected a duty far more sacred and far more 
important.'' God has placed me in this elevated post; 
his providence will guard and support me. Should I 
be condemned to suffer, 1 shall derive comfort from 
the testimony of a pure and upright conscience. 
Would to heaven that I still possessed a councillor 
like Sallust ! If they think proper to send me a 
successor, I shall submit without reluctance ; and had 
much rather improve the short opportunity of doing 
good than enjoy a long and lasting impunity of evil." 
The precarious and dependent situation of Julian dis- 
played his virtues and concealed his defects. The 
young hero who supported, in Gaul, the throne of 
Constantius was not permitted to reform the vices of 
the government ; but he had courage to alleviate or 
to pity the distress of the people. Unless he had 
been able to revive the martial spirit of the Romans, 
or to introduce the arts of industry and refinement 
among their savage enemies, he could not entertain 
any rational hopes of securing the public tranquillity, 
either by the peace or conquest of Germany. Yet the 


victories of Julian suspended, for a short time,, the 
inroads of the Barbarians, and delayed the ruin of 
the W^esteru Empire. 

His salutary influence restored the cities of Gaul, 
which had been so long exposed to the evils of civil 
discord, barbarian war, and domestic tyranny ; and 
the spirit of industry was revived with the hopes of 
enjoyment. Agriculture, manufactures, and commerce 
again flourished under the protection of the laws ; and 
the curicE, or civil corporations, were again filled with 
useful and respectable members ; the youth were no 
longer apprehensive of marriage ; and married persona 
were no longer apprehensive of posterity : the public 
and private festivals were celebrated with customary 
pomp ; and the frequent and secure intercourse of the 
provinces displayed the image of national prosperity. 
A mind like that of Julian must have felt the general 
happiness of which he was the author ; but he viewed 
with peculiar satisfaction and complacency the city 
of Paris, the seat of his winter residence, and the 
object even of his partial aff"ection. That splendid 
capital, which now embraces an ample territory on 
either side of the Seine, was originally confined to 
the small island in the midst of the river, from whence 
the inhabitants derived a supply of pure and salubrious 
water. The river bathed the foot of the walls ; and 
the town was accessible only by two wooden bridges. 
A forest overspread the northern side of the Seine ; 
but on the south,, the ground, which now bears the 
name of the university, was insensibly covered with 
houses, and adorned with a palace and amphitheatre, 
baths, an aqueduct, and a field of Mars for the exercise 
for the Roman troops. The severity of the climate 
was tempered by the neighbourhood of the ocean ; 
and with some precautions, which experience had 
taught, the vine and fig-tree were successfully culti- 
vated. But in remarkable winters, the Seiije was 
deeply frozen ; and the huge pieces of ice that floated 
down the stream might be compared, by an Asiatic, 
to the blocks of white marble which were extracted 


from the quarries of Phrygia. The licentiousness 
and corruption of Antioch recalled to the memory of 
Julian the severe and simple manners of his beloved 
Lutetia ; *^ where the amusements of the theatre were 
unknown or despised. He indignantly contrasted the 
effeminate Syrians with the brave and honest simplicity 
of the GaulSj and almost forgave the intemperance 
which was the only stain of the Celtic character. If 
Julian could now revisit the capital of France, he 
might converse with men of science and genius, 
capable of understanding and of instructing a disciple 
of the Greeks ; he might excuse the lively and graceful 
follies of a nation whose martial spirit has never been 
enervated by the indulgence of luxury ; and he must 
applaud the perfection of that inestimable art which 
softens and refines and embellishes the intercourse 
of social life. 

49 T}jP (pCKrjv AevKCTiav. Julian, in Misopogon. p. 340. 
Leucetia, or Lutetia, was the ancient name of the city which, 
according to the fashion of the fourth century, assumed the 
territorial appellation of Parisii. 




The public establishment of Christianity may be con- 
sidered as one of those important and domestic revolu- 
tions which excite the most lively curiosity and afford 
the most valuable instruction. The victories and the 
civil policy of Constantine no longer influence the state 
of Europe ; but a considerable portion of the globe 
still retains the impression which it received from the 
conversion of that monarch ; and the ecclesiastical in- 
stitutions of his reign are still connected^ by an indis- 
soluble chain, with the opinions, the passions, and the 
interests of the present generation. 

In the consideration of a subject which may be 
examined with impartiality, but cannot be viewed with 
indifference, a difficulty immediately arises of a very 
unexpected nature ; that of ascertaining the real and 
precise date of the conversion of Constantine. The 
eloquent Lactantius, in the midst of his court, seems 
impatient^ to proclaim to the world the glorious 
example of the sovereign of Gaul ; who, in the first 
moments of his reign, acknowledged and adored the 

1 The date of the Divine Institutions of Lactantius has been 
accurately discussed, difficulties have been started, solutions pro- 
posed, and an expedient imagined of two original editions : the 
former published during the persecution of Diocletian, the latter 
under that of Licinius. For my own part, I am ahnost con- 
vinced that Lactantius dedicated his Institutions to the sovereign 
of Gaul, at a time when Galerius, Maximin, and even Licinius, 
persecuted the Christians ; that is, between the years 306 and 


majesty of the true and only God.^ The learned 
Eusebius has ascribed the faith of Constantine to tlie 
miraculous sign which was displayed in the heavens 
whilst he meditated and prepared the Italian expedition. 
The historian Zosimus maliciously asserts that the 
emperor had imbraed his hands in the blood of his 
eldest son, before he publicly renounced the gods of 
Rome and of his ancestors. The perplexity produced 
by these discordant authorities is derived from the 
behaviour of Constantine himself. According to the 
strictness of ecclesiastical language, the first of the 
Christian emperors was unworthy of that name, till the 
moment of his death ; since it was only during his last 
illness that he received, as a catechumen, the imposition 
of hands,^ and was afterwards admitted, by the initiatory 
rites of baptism, into the number of the faithful.* The 
Christianity of Constantine must be allowed in a much 
more vague and qualified sense ; and the nicest accuracy 
is required in tracing the slow and almost imperceptible 
gradations by which the monarch declared himself the 
protector, and at length the proselyte, of the church. 

2 Lactant. Divin. Institut. i. i, vii. 27. The first and most 
important of these passages is indeed wanting iu twenty-eight 
manuscripts ; but it is found in nineteen. If we weigh the com- 
parative value of those manuscripts, one of 900 years old, in the 
king of France's library, may be alleged in its favour ; but the 
passage is omitted in the correct manuscript of Bologna, which 
the P. de Montfaucon ascribes to the sixth or seventh century. 
The taste of most of the editors has felt the genuine style of 

8 That rite was always used in making a catechumen and Con- 
stantine received it for the first time immediately before his 
baptism and death. From the connection of these two facts, 
Valesius has drawn the conclusion, which is reluctantly ad- 
mitted by Tillemont. 

^ The legend of Constantine's baptism at Rome, thirteen 
years before his death, was invented in the eighth century, as a 
proper motive for his donation. Such has been the gradual 
progress of knowledge that a story of which Cardinal Baron ius 
(Annal. Ecclesiast. A.D. 324, No. 43-49) declared hirnself the 
unblushing advocate is now feebly supported, even within the 
verge of the Vatican. 

306-837 OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE 329 

It was an arduous task to eradicate the habits and 
prejudices of his education^ to acknowledge the divine 
power of Christ, and to understand that the truth of 
his revelation was incompatible with the worship of 
the g-ods. The obstacles which he had probably ex- 
perienced in his own mind instructed him to proceed 
with caution in the momentous change of a national 
religion ; and he insensibly discovered his new opinions, 
as far as he could enforce them with safety and with 
effect. During the whole course of his reign, the. 
stream of Christianity flowed with a gentle, though 
accelerated, motion : but its general direction was 
sometimes checked, and sometimes diverted, by the 
accidental circumstances of the times, and by the 
prudence, or possibly by the caprice, of the monarch. 
His ministers were permitted to signify the intentions 
of their master in the various language that was best 
adapted to their respective principles ; and he artfully 
balanced the hopes and fears of his subjects by publish- 
ing in the same year two edicts ; the first of which 
enjoined the solemn observance of Sunday,^ and the 
second directed the regular consultation of the 
Aruspices.^ While this important revolution yet re- 
mained in suspense, the Christians and the Pagans 
watched the conduct of their sovereign with the same 
anxiety, but with very opposite sentiments. The former 
were prompted by every motive of zeal, as well as 
vanity, to exaggerate the marks of his favour, and the 
evidences of his faith. The latter, till their just ap- 
prehensions were changed into despair and resentment, 
attempted to conceal from the world, and from them- 
selves, that the gods of Rome could no longer reckon 
the emperor in the number of their votaries. The 
same passions and prejudices have engaged the partial 
writers of the times to connect the public profession 

» Constantine styles the Lord's day dies soils, a name which 
could not offend the ears of his Pagan subjects, 

•■^ Godefroy, in the character of a commentator, endeavours 
to excuse Constantine ; but the more zealous Baronius cen- 
sures his profane conduct with truth and asperity. 

VOL. II. L 2 


of Christianity with the most glorious or the most 
ignominious aera of the reign of Constantine. 

Whatever symptoms of Christian piety might tran- 
spire in the discourses or actions of Constantine_, he 
persevered till he was near forty years of age in the 
practice of the established religion ; " and the same 
conduct_, which in the court of Nicomedia might be 
imputed to his fear, could be ascribed only to the 
inclination or policy of the sovereign of Gaul. His 
liberality restored and enriched the temples of the 
gods : the medals which issued from his Imperial mint 
are impressed with the figures and attributes of Jupiter 
and Apollo, of Mars and Hercules ; and his filial piety 
increased the council of Olympus by the solemn 
apotheosis of his father Constantius.^ But the devotion 
of Constantine was mvore peculiarly directed to the 
genius of the Sun, the Apollo of Greek and Roman 
mythology ; and he was pleased to be represented with 
the symbols of the God of Light and Poetry. The 
unerring shafts of that deity, the brightness of his 
eyes, his laurel wreath, immortal beauty, and elegant 
accomplishments, seem to point him out as the patron 
of a young hero. The altars of Apollo were crowned 
with the votive ofi^erings of Constantine ; and the 
credulous multitude were taught to believe that the 
emperor was permitted to behold with mortal eyes tho 
visible majesty of their tutelar deity, and that, either 
waking or in a vision, he was blessed with the auspicious 
omens of a long and victorious reign. The Sun was 
universally celebrated as the invincible guide and 
protector of Constantine ; and the Pagans might 
reasonably expect that the insulted god would pursue 

7 Theodoret (1. i. c. i8) seems to insinuate that Helena gave 
her son a Christian education ; but we may be assured, from 
the superior authority of Eusebius (in Vit. Constant. 1. iii. c. 47), 
that she herself was indebted to Constantine for the knowledge 
of Christianity. 

8 See the medals of Constantine in Ducange and Banduri. 
As few cities had retained the privilege of coining, almost all 
the medals of that age issued from the mint under the sanction 
of the Imperial authority. 

306-312 OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE 331 

with unrelenting vengeance the impiety of his un- 
grateful favourite.^ 

As long as Constantino exercised a limited sovereignty 
over the provinces of Gaul, his Christian subjects were 
protected by the authority, and perhaps by the laws, 
of a prince who wisely left to the gods the care of 
vindicating their own honour. If we may credit the 
assertion of Constantine himself, he had been an 
indignant spectator of the savage cruelties which were 
inflicted^ by the hands of Roman soldiers, on those 
citizens whose religion was their only crime. ^"^ In 
the East and in the West, he had seen the different 
etFects of severity and indulgence ; and, as the former 
was rendered still more odious by the example of 
Galerius, his implacable enemy, the latter was re- 
commended to his imitation by the authority and 
advice of a dying father. The son of Constantius 
immediately suspended or repealed the edicts of per- 
secution, and granted the free exercise of their 
religious ceremonies to all those who had already 
professed themselves members of the church. They 
were soon encouraged to depend on the favour as 
well as on the justice of their sovereign, who had 
imbibed a secret and sincere reverence for the name 
of Christ and for the God of the Christians. 

About five months after the conquest of Italy, the 
emperor made a solemn and authentic declaration of 
his sentiments, by the celebrated edict of Milan, which 
restored peace to the Catholic Church. In the personal 
interview of the two western princes, Constantine, 
by the ascendant of genius and power, obtained the 

9 The panegyric of Eumenius (vii, inter Panegyr. Vet.), which 
was pronounced a few months before the Italian war, abounds 
with the most unexceptionable evidence of the Pagan super- 
stition of Constantine, and of his particular veneration for Apolio, 
or the Sun ; to which Julian alludes. 

10 But it might easily be shown that the Greek translator has 
improved the sense of the Latin original ; and the aged emperor 
might recollect the persecution of Diocletian with a more lively 
abhorrence than he had actually felt in the days of his youth 
and Paganism. 


ready concurrence of his colleague Licinius ; the union 
of their names and authority disarmed the fury of 
Maximin ; and_, after the death of the tyrant of the 
East, the edict of Milan was received as a general 
and fundamental law of the Roman world. The 
wisdom of the emperors provided for the restitution 
of all the civil and religious rights of which the 
Christians had been so unjustly deprived. It was 
enacted that the places of worship, and public lands, 
which had been confiscated, should be restored to the 
church, without dispute, without delay, and without 
expense : and this severe injunction was accompanied 
with a gracious promise that, if any of the purchasers 
had paid a fair and adequate price, they should be 
indemnified from the Imperial treasury. The salutary 
regulations which guard the future tranquillity of the 
faithful are framed on the principles of enlarged and 
equal toleration ; and such an equality must have 
been interpreted by a recent sect as an advantageous 
and honourable distinction. The two emperors pro- 
claim to the world that they have granted a free and 
absolute power to the Christians, and to all others, 
of following the religion which each individual thinks 
proper to prefer, to wliich he has addicted his mind, 
and which he may deem the best adapted to his own 
use. They carefully explain every ambiguous word, 
remove every exception, and exact from the governors 
of the provinces a strict obedience to the true and 
simple meaning of an edict which was designed to 
establish and secure, without any limitation, the claims 
of religious liberty. They condescend to assign two 
weighty reasons which have induced them to allow 
this universal toleration : the humane intention of 
consulting the peace and happiness of their people ; 
and the pious hope that, by such a conduct, they shall 
appease and propitiate the Deity, whose seat is in heaven. 
They gratefully acknowledge the many signal proofa 
which they have received of the divine favour ; and 
they trust that the same Providence will for ever 
continue to protect the prosperity of the prince and 


people. From these vague and indefinite expressions 
of pietYj three suppositions may be deduced^ of a 
different, but not of an incompatible, nature. The 
mind of Constantiue might fluctuate between the 
Pagan and the Christian religions. According to the 
loose and complying notions of Polytheism, he might 
acknowledge the God of the Christians as one of the 
many deities who composed the hierarchy of heaven. 
Or perhaps he might embrace the philosophic and 
pleasing idea that, notwithstanding the variety of 
names, of rites, and of opinions, all the sects and all 
the nations of mankind are united in the worship of 
the common Father and Creator of the universe. 

But the counsels of princes are more frequently 
influenced by vieAvs of temporal advantage than by 
considerations of abstract and speculative truth. ITie 
partial and increasing favour of Constantine may 
naturally be referred to the esteem which he enter- 
tained for the moral character of the Christians ; and 
to a persuasion that the propagation of the gospel 
would inculcate the practice of private and public 
virtue. Whatever latitude an absolute monarch may 
assume in his own conduct, whatever indulgence he 
may claim for his own passions, it is undoubtedly his 
interest that all his subjects should respect the natural 
and civil obligations of society. But the operation of 
the wisest laws is imperfect and precarious. They 
seldom inspire virtue, they cannot always restrain vice. 
Their power is insufficient to prohibit all that they 
condemn, nor can they always punish the actions 
which they prohibit. The legislators of antiquity had 
summoned to their aid the powers of education and of 
opinion. But every principle which had once main- 
tained the vigour and purity of Rome and Sparta was 
long since extinguished in a declining and despotic 
empire. Philosophy still exercised her temperate sway 
over the human mind, but the cause of virtue derived 
very feeble support from the influence of the Pagan 
superstition. Under these discouraging circumstances, 
a prudent magistrate might observe with pleasure the 


progress of a religion, which diffused among the people 
a pure, benevolent_, and universal system of ethics, 
adapted to every duty and every condition of life ; 
recommended as the will and reason of the Supreme 
Deity, and enforced by the sanction of eternal rewards 
or punishments. The experience of Greek and Roman 
history could not inform the world how far the system 
of national manners might be reformed and improved 
by the precepts of a divine revelation ; and Constantine 
might listen with some confidence to the flattering, 
and indeed reasonable, assurances of Lactantius. The 
eloquent apologist seemed firmly to expect, and almost 
ventured to promise, that the establishment of Chris- 
tianity would restore the innocence and felicity of the 
primitive age ; that the worship of the true God would 
extinguish war and dissention among those who mutu- 
ally considered themselves as the children of a common 
parent ; that every impure desire, every angry or 
selfish passion, would be restrained by the knowledge 
of the gospel ; and that the magistrates might sheathe 
the sword of justice among a people who would be 
universally actuated by the sentiments of truth and 
piety, of equity and moderation, of harmony and 
universal love. 

The passive and unresisting obedience which bows 
under the yoke of authority, or even of oppression, 
must have appeared, in the eyes of an absolute monarch, 
the most conspicuous and useful of the evangelic virtues. 
The primitive Christians derived the institution of 
civil government, not from the consent of the people, 
but from the decrees of heaven. The reigning emperor, 
though he had usurped the sceptre by treason and 
murder, immediately assumed the sacred character of 
vicegerent of the Deity. To the Deity alone he was 
accountable for the abuse of his power ; and his sub- 
jects were iudissolubly bound, by their oath of fidelity, 
to a tyrant who had violated every law of nature and 
society. The humble Christians were sent into the 
world as sheep among wolves ; and, since they were 
not permitted to employ force, even in the defence of 


tlieir religion, they should be still more criminal if 
they were tempted to shed the blood of their fellow- 
creatures in disputing the vain privileges, or the 
sordid possessions, of this transitory life. Faithful to 
the doctrine of the apostle who in the reign of Nero 
had preached the duty of unconditional submission, the 
Christians of the three first centuries preserved their 
conscience pure and innocent of the guilt of secret 
conspiracy or open rebellion. While they experienced 
the rigour of persecution, they were never provoked 
either to meet their tyrants in the field or indignantly to 
withdraw themselves into some remote and sequestered 
corner of the globe. The Protestants of France, of 
Germany, and of Britain, who asserted with such 
intrepid courage their civil and religious freedom, 
have been insulted by the invidious comparison be- 
tween the conduct of the primitive and of the reformed 
Christians. Perhaps, instead of censure, some applause 
may be due to the superior sense and spirit of our 
ancestors, who had convinced themselves that religion 
cannot abolish the unalienable rights of human nature. 
Perhaps the patience of the primitive church may be 
ascribed to its weakness, as well as to its virtue. A 
sect of unwarlike plebeians, without leaders, without 
arms, without fortifications, must have encountered 
inevitable destruction in a rash and fruitless resistance 
to the master of the Roman legions. But the Chris- 
tians, when they deprecated the wrath of Diocletian, 
or solicited the favour of Constantine, could allege, 
with truth and confidence, that they held the principle 
of passive obedience, and that, in the space of three 
centuries, their conduct had always been conformable 
to their principles. They might add that the throne 
of the emperors would be established on a fixed and 
permanent basis, if all their subjects, embracing the 
Christian doctrine, should learn to suffer and to obey. 
In the general order of Providence, princes and 
tyrants are considered as the ministers of Heaven, 
appointed to rule or to chastise the nations of the 
earth. But sacred history affords many illustrious 


examples of the more immediate interposition of the 
Deity in the g-overnment of his chosen people. The 
sceptre and the sword were committed to the hands 
of Moses, of Joshua, of Gideon, of David, of the 
Maccabees ; the virtues of those heroes were the motive 
or the effect of the divine favour, the success of their 
arms was destined to achieve the deliverance or the 
triumph of the church. If the judges of Israel were 
occasional and temporary magistrates, the kings. of 
Judah derived from the royal unction of their great 
ancestor an hereditary and indefeasible right, which 
could not be forfeited by their own vices, nor recalled 
by the caprice of their subjects. The same extra- 
ordinary providence, which was no longer confined to 
the Jewish people, might elect Constantino and his 
family as the protectors of the Christian world ; and 
the devout Lactantius announces, in a prophetic tone, 
the future glories of his long and universal reign. ^^ 
Galerius and Maxim in, Maxentius and Licinius, were 
the rivals who shared with the favourite of Heaven the 
provinces of the empire. The tragic deaths of Galerius 
and Maximin soon gratified the resentment, and ful- 
filled the sanguine expectations of the Christians. 
Tlie success of Constantine against Maxentius and 
Licinius removed the two formidable competitors who 
still opposed the triumph of the second David, and his 
cause might seem to claim the peculiar interposition 
of Providence. The character of the Roman tyrant 
disgraced the purple and human nature ; and, though 
the Christians might enjoy his precarious favour, they 
were exposed, with the rest of his subjects, to the 
effects of his wanton and capricious cruelty. The 
conduct of Licinius soon betrayed the reluctance with 
which he had consented to the wise and humane regu- 
lations of the edict of Milan. The convocation of 
provincial synods was prohibited in his dominions ; his 
Chnstian officers were ignominiously dismissed ; and, 

u Eusebius, in the course of his history, his life, and his 
oration, repeatedly inculcates the divine right of Constantine to 
the empire. 



if he avoided tie guilt, or rather danger, of a general 
persecution, his partial oppressions were rendered still 
more odious by the violation of a solemn and voluntary 
engagement. While the East, according to the lively 
expression of Eusebius, was involved in the shades of 
infernal darkness, the auspicious rays of celestial light 
warmed and illuminated the provinces of the West. 
The piety of Constautine was admitted as an unex- 
ceptionable proof of the justice of his arms ; and his 
use of victory contirmed the opinion of the Christians, 
that their hero was inspired, and conducted by the 
Lord of Hosts. The conquest of Italy produced a 
general edict of toleration : and, as soon as the defeat 
of Licinius had invested Constantine with the sole 
dominion of the Roman world, he immediately, by 
circular letters, exhorted all his subjects to imitate, 
without delay, the example of their sovereign, and to 
embrace the divine truth of Christianity. 

The assurance that the elevation of Constantine was 
intimately connected with the designs of Providence 
instilled into the minds of the Christians two opinions, 
which, by very different means, assisted the accomplish- 
ment of the prophecy. Their warm and active loyalty 
exhausted in his favour every resource of human 
industry ; and they confidently expected that their 
strenuous efforts would be seconded by some divine 
and miraculous aid. The enemies of Constantine have 
imputed to interested motives the alliance which he 
insensibly contracted with the Catholic church, and 
which apparently contributed to the success of his 
ambition. In the beginning of the fourth century, 
the Christians still bore a very inadequate proportion 
to the inhabitants of the empire ; but among a de- 
generate people, who viewed the change of masters 
with the indifference of slaves, the spirit and union of 
a religious party might assist the popular leader to 
whose service, from a principle of conscience, they had 
devoted their lives and fortunes. ^2 xhe example of 

12 In the beginning of the last century, the Papists of Eng- 
land were only a thirtieth, and the Protestants of France only 


his father had instructed Constantine to esteem and 
to reward the merit of the Christians ; and in the dis- 
tribution of public offices_, he had the advantage of 
strengthening his government, by the choice of ministers 
or generals in whose fidelity he could repose a just 
and unreserved confidence. By the influence of these 
dignified missionaries, the proselytes of the new faith 
must have multiplied in the court and army ; the 
Barbarians of Germany, who filled the ranks of the 
legions, were of a careless temper, which acquiesced 
without I'esistance in the religion of their commander ; 
and, when they passed the Alps, it may fairly be pre- 
sumed that a great number of the soldiers had already 
consecrated their swords to the service of Christ and 
of Constantine.^^ The habits of mankind, and the 
interest of religion, gradually abated the horror of war 
and bloodshed, which had so long prevailed among the 
Christians ; and, in the councils which were assembled 
under the gracious protection of Constantine, the 
authority of the bishops was seasonably employed to 
ratify the obligation of the military oath, and to inflict 
the penalty of excommunication on those soldiers who 
tlirew away their arms during the peace of the church. 
While Constantine, in his own dominions, increased 
the number and zeal of his faithful adherents, he could 
depend on the support of a powerful faction in those 
provinces which were still possessed or usurped by his 
rivals. A secret disafl"ection was diff"used among the 
Christian subjects of Maxentius and Licinius ; and the 
resentment which the latter did not attempt to conceal 
served only to engage them still more deeply in the 
interest of his competitor. The regular correspond- 
ence which connected the bishops of the most distant 
provinces enabled them freely to communicate their 

a fifteenth, part of the respective nations, to whom their spirit 
and power were a constant object of apprehension. 

13 This careless temper of the Germans appears almost 
uniformly in the history of the conversion of each of the tribes. 
The legions of Constantine were recruited with Germans ; and 
the court even of his father had been filled with Christians. 


wishes and their designs, and to transmit without 
danger any useful intelligence, or any pious contri- 
butions, which might promote the service of Constan- 
tine, who publicly declared that he had taken up arms 
for the deliverance of the church.^'* 

The enthusiasm which inspired the troops, and 
perhaps the emperor himself, had sharpened their 
swords, while it satisfied their conscience. They 
marched to battle with the full assurance that the 
same God, who had formerly opened a passage to the 
Israelites through the waters of Jordan, and had 
tlirown down the walls of Jericho at the sound of the 
trumpets of Joshua, would display his visible majesty 
and power in the victory of Constantine. The evidence 
of ecclesiastical history is prepared to affirm that their 
expectations were justified by the conspicuous miracle 
to which the conversion of the first Christian emperor has 
been almost unanimously ascribed. Tlie real or imaginary 
cause of so impoi-tant an event deserves and demands 
the attention of posterity ; and I shall endeavour to 
form a just estimate of the famous vision of Constantine, 
by a distinct consideration of the standard, the dream, 
and the celestial sign ; by separating the historical, the 
natural, and the marvellous parts of this extraordinary 
story, which, in the composition of a specious argument, 
liave been artfully confounded in one splendid and 
brittle mass. 

I. An instrument of the tortures which were inflicted 
only on slaves and strangers became an object of 
horror in the eyes of a Roman citizen ; and the ideas 
of guilt, of pain, and of ignominy were closely united 
with the idea of the cross. ^^ The piety rather than 

!■* Eusebius always considers the second civil war against 
Licinius as a sort of religious crusade. At the invitation of the 
tyrant, some Christian officers had resumed their zones ; or, in 
other words, had returned to the military service. Their con- 
duct was afterwards censured by the 12th canon of the Council 
of Nice ; if this particular application may be received, instead of 
the loose and general sense of the Greek interpreters, Balsamon, 
Zonaras, and Alexis Aristenus. 

^5 The Christian writers, Justin, Minucius Felix, TertulUan, 


the humanity of Constantine soon abolished in his 
dominions the punishment which the Saviour of man- 
kind had condescended to suffer ; ^^ but the emperor 
had already learned to despise the prejudices of his 
education, and of his people, before he could erect 
in the midst of Rome his own statue, bearing a cross 
in its right hand, with an inscription which referred 
the victory of his arms, and the deliverance of Rome, 
to the virtue of that salutary sign, the true symbol 
of force and courage. ^^ The same symbol sanctified 
the arms of the soldiers of Constantine ; the cross 
glittered on their helmets, was engraved on their 
shields, was interwoven into tlieir banners ; and the 
consecrated emblems which adorned the person of the 
emperor himself were distinguished only by richer 
materials and more exquisite workmanship. But the 
principal standard which displayed the triumph of the 
cross was styled the Labarum,^^ an obscure though 
celebrated name, which has been vainly derived from 
almost all the languages of the world. It is described 
as a long pike intersected by a transversal beam. The 
silken veil which hung down from the beam was 

Jerora, and Maximus of Turin, have investigated with tolerable 
success the figure or likeness of a cross in almost every object 
of nature or art ; in the intersection of the meridian and equator, 
the human face, a bird flying, a man swimming, a mast and 
yard, a plough, a standard, &c. &c. &c. 

16 See Aurelius Victor, who considers this law as one of the 
examples of Constantine's piety. An edict so honourable to 
Christianity deserved a place in the Theodosian Code, instead 
of the indirect mention of it, which seems to result from the 
comparison of the vth and xviiith titles of the ixth book. 

17 The statue, or at least the cross and inscription, may be 
ascribed with more probability to the second, or even the third, 
visit of Constantine to Rome. Immediately after the defeat of 
Maxentius, the minds of the senate and people were scarcely 
ripe for this public monument. 

1*^ The derivation and meaning of the word Labarum or 
Laborum, which is employed by Gregory Nazianzen, Ambrose, 
Prudentius, &c. still remain totally unknown ; in spite of the 
efforts of the critics, who have ineffectually tortured the Latin, 
Greek, Spanish, Celtic, Teutonic, lUyric, Armenian, &c, in search 
of an etymology. 


curiously enwrought with the images of the reign- 
ing monarch and his children. The summit of the 
pike supported a crown of gold which inclosed the 
mysterious monogram, at once expressive of the figure 
of the cross and the initial letters of the name of 
Christ.^^ The safety of the labarum was entrusted 
to fifty guards, of approved valour and fidelity ; their 
station was marked by honours and emoluments ; and 
some fortunate accidents soon introduced an opinion 
that, as long as the guards of the labarum were 
engaged in the execution of their office, they were 
secure and invulnerable amidst the darts of the enemy. 
In the second civil war Licinius felt and dreaded the 
power of this consecrated banner, the sight of which, 
in the distress of battle, animated the soldiers of 
Constantine with an invincible enthusiasm, and scat- 
tered terror and dismay through the ranks of the 
adverse legions.-'^ The Christian emperors, who re- 
spected the example of Constantine, displayed in aU 
their military expeditions the standard of the cross ; 
but, when the degenerate successors of Theodosius 
had ceased to appear in person at the head of their 
armies, the labarum was deposited as a venerable but 
useless relic in the palace of Constantinople. ^^ Its 
honours are still preserved on the medals of the 

19 Cuper (ad. M. P. in edit. Lactam, torn, ii. p. 500) and 
Baronius (a.d. 312, No. 25) have engraved from ancient 
monuments several specimens (as thus ^ or <B ) of these 
monograms, which became extremely fashionable in the Chris- 
tian world. 

20 He introduces the Labarum before "the Italian expedition ; 
but his narrative seems to indicate that it was never shown at 
the head of an army, till Constantine, above ten years after- 
wards, declared himself the enemy of Licinius and the deliverer 
of the church. 

21 Theophanes lived towards the end of the eighth century, 
almost five hundred years after Constantine. The modern 
Greeks were not inclined to display in the field the standard of 
the empire and of Christianity ; and, though they depended on 
every superstitious hope of defence, the promise of victory would 
have appeared too bold a fiction. 


Flavian family. Their grateful devotion has placed 
the monogram of Christ in the midst of the ensigns 
of Rome. The solemn epithets of, safety of the re- 
public, glory of the army, restoration of public happi- 
ness, are equally applied to the religious and military 
trophies ; and there is still extant a medal of the 
emperor Constantius, where the standard of the 
labarum is accompanied with these memorable words, 
By this sign thou shalt conquer. 

IL In all occasions of danger or distress, it was the 
practice of the primitive Christians to fortify their 
minds and bodies by the sign of the cross, which they 
used, in all their ecclesiastical rites, in all the daily 
occurrences of life, as an infallible preservative against 
every species of spiritual or temporal evil.^^ 'j^g 
authority of the church might alone have had suf- 
ficient weight to justify the devotion of Constantine, 
who, in the same prudent and gradual progress, 
acknowledged the truth, and assumed the symbol, of 
Christianity. But the testimony of a contemporary 
writer, who in a former treatise has avenged the cause 
of religion, bestows on the piety of the emperor a 
more awful and sublime character. He affirms, with 
the most perfect confidence, that, in the night which 
preceded the last battle against Maxentius, Constantine 
was admonished in a dream to inscribe the shields of 
his soldiers with the celestial sign of God, the sacred 
monogram of the name of Christ ; that he executed 
the commands of heaven ; and that his valour and 
obedience were rewarded by the decisive victory 
of the Milvian Bridge. Some considerations might 
perhaps incline a sceptical mind to suspect the judg- 
ment or the veracity of the rhetorician, whose pen. 
either from zeal or interest, was devoted to the cause 
of the prevailing faction.-^ He appears to have pub- 

22 The learned Jesuit Petavius (Dogmata Theolog. 1. xv, 
c. 9, lo) has collected many similar passages on the virtues of 
the cross, which in the last age embarrassed our Protestant 

23 It is certain that this historical declamation was composed 


lished his deaths of the persecutors at Nicomedia 
about three years after the Roman victory ; but the 
interval of a thousand miles^ and a thousand days, 
will allow an ample latitude for the invention of 
declaimers, the credulity of party, and the tacit appro- 
bation of the emperor himself; who might listen 
without indignation to a marvellous tale, which 
exalted his fame and promoted his designs. In favour 
of Licinius, who still dissembled his animosity to the 
Christians, the same author has provided a similar 
vision, of a form of prayer, which was communicated 
by an angel, and repeated by the whole army before 
they engaged the legions of the tyrant Maximin. 
The frequent repetition of miracles serves to provoke, 
where it does not subdue, the reason of mankind ; 2* 
but, if the dream of Constantine is separately con- 
sidered, it may be naturally explained either by the 
policy or the enthusiasm of the emperor. Whilst his 
anxiety for the approaching day, which must decide 
the fate of the empire, suspended by a short and 
interrupted slumber, the venerable form of Christ, 
and the well-known symbol of his religion, might 
forcibly offer themselves to the active fancy of a prince 
who reverenced the name, and had perhaps secretly 
implored the power, of the God of the Christians. 

and published while Licinius, sovereign of the East, still pre- 
served the friendship of Constantine and of the Christians. 
Every reader of taste must perceive that the style is of a very 
different and inferior character to that of Lactantius ; and such 
indeed is the judgment of Le Clerc and Lardner. Three argu- 
ments from the title of the book, and from the names of Donatus 
and Caecilius, are produced by the advocates for Lactantius. 
Each of these proofs is singly weak and defective ; but their 
concurrence has great weight. I have often fluctuated, and 
shall tamely follow the Colbert MS. in calling the author (who- 
ever he was) Cascilius. 

24 There seems to be some reason in the observation of M. 
de Voltaire (Oeuvres, t. xiv. p. 307), wh^ ascribes to the success 
of Constantine the superior fame of his Labarum above the 
angel of Licinius. Yet even this angel is favourably entertained 
by Pagi, Tillemont, Fleury, &c. who are fond of increasing their 
stock of miracles. 


As readily might a consummate statesman indulge 
himself in the use of one of those military stratagems, 
one of those pious frauds, which Philip and Sertorius 
had employed with such art and effect. ^^ The praeter- 
natural origin of dreams was universally admitted by 
the nations of antiquity, and a considerable part of 
the Gallic army was already prepared to place their 
confidence in the salutary sign of the Christian religion. 
The secret vision of Constantine could be disproved 
only by the event ; and the intrepid hero who had 
passed the Alps and the Apennine might view with 
careless despair the consequences of a defeat under 
the walls of Rome. The senate and people, exulting 
in their own deliverance from an odious tyrant, 
acknowledged that the victory of Constantine sur- 
passed the powers of man, without daring to insinuate 
that it had been obtained by the protection of the 
Gods. The triumphal arch which was erected about 
three years after the event proclaims, in ambiguous 
language, that, by the greatness of his own mind and 
by an instinct or impulse of the Divinity, he had saved 
and avenged the Roman republic. The Pagan orator, 
who had seized an earlier opportunity of celebrating 
the virtues of the conqueror, supposes that he alone 
enjoyed a secret and intimate commerce with the 
Supreme Being, who delegated the care of mortals 
to his subordinate deities ; and thus assigns a very 
plausible reason why the subjects of Constantine should 
not presume to embrace the new religion of their 

25 Besides these well-known examples, ToUius (Preface to 
Boileau's translation of Longinus) has discovered a vision of 
Antigonus, who assured his troops that he had seen a pentagon 
(the symbol of safety) with these words, " In this conquer." 
But Tollius has most inexcusably omitted to produce his autho- 
rity ; and his own character, literary as well as moral, is not free 
from reproach. Without insisting on the silence of Diodorus, 
Plutarch, Justin, &c. it may be observed that Polyaenus, who in 
a separate chapter (1. iv. c. 6) has collected nineteen military 
stratagems of Antigonus, is totally ignorant of this remarkable 


III. The philosopher, who with calm suspicion ex- 
amines the dreams and omens, the miracles and pro- 
digies, or profane or even of ecclesiastical history, will 
probably conclude that, if the eyes of the spectators 
have sometimes been deceived by fraud, the under- 
standing of the readers has much more frequently been 
insulted by fiction. Every event, or appearance, or 
accident, which seems to deviate from the ordinary 
course of nature, has been rashly ascribed to the im- 
mediate action of the Deity ; and the astonished fancy 
of the multitude has sometimes given shape and colour, 
language and motion, to the fleeting but uncommon 
meteors of the air. Nazarius and Eusebius are the 
two most celebrated orators who, in studied panegyrics, 
have laboured to exalt the glory of Constantino. Nine 
years after the Roman victory, Nazarius -^ describes 
an army of divine warriors, who seemed to faU 
from the sky : he marks their beauty, their spirit, 
their gigantic forms, the stream of light which beamed 
from their celestial armour, their patience in suffering 
themselves to be heard, as well as seen, by mortals ; 
and their declaration that they were sent, that they 
flew, to the assistance of the great Constantiue. For 
the truth of this prodigy, the Pagan orator appeals to 
the whole Gallic nation, in whose presence he was then 
speaking ; and seems to hope that the ancient appari- 
tions ^^ would now obtain credit from this recent and 
public event. The Christian fable of Eusebius, which 
in the space of twenty-six years might arise from the 
original dream, is cast in a much more correct and 
elegant mould. In one of the marches of Constantine, 
he is reported to have seen with his own eyes the 
luminous trophy of the cross, placed above the meri- 
dian sun, and inscribed with the following words : By 

26 It is unnecessary to name the moderns, whose undistin- 
guishing and ravenous appetite has swallowed even the Pagan 
bait of Nazarius. 

27 The apparitions of Castor and Pollux, particularly to 
announce the Macedonian victory, are attested by historians 
and public monuments. 


THIS CONQUER, This amazing object in the sky aston- 
ished the whole army, as well as the emperor himself, 
who was yet undetermined in the choice of a religion ; 
but his astonishment was converted into faith by the 
vision of the ensuing night. Christ appeared before 
his eyes ; and, displaying the same celestial sign of the 
cross, he directed Constantine to frame a similar 
standard, and to march, with an assurance of victory, 
against Maxentius and all his enemies. ^8 The learned 
bishop of Cjfisarea appears to be sensible that the re- 
cent discovery of this marvellous anecdote would excite 
some surprise and distrust among the most pious of his 
readers. Yet instead of ascertaining the precise cir- 
cumstances of time and place, which always serve to 
detect falsehood or establish truth ; ^ instead of col- 
lecting and recording the evidence of so many living 
witnesses, who must have been spectators of this stu- 
pendous miracle ; ^^ Eusebius contents himself with 
alleging a very singular testimony ; that of the de- 
ceased Constantine, who, many years after the event, 
in the freedom of conversation, had related to him this 
extraordinary incident of his own life, and had attested 
the truth of it by a solemn oath. The prudence and 
gratitude of the learned prelate forbade him to suspect 
the veracity of his victorious master ; but he plainly 
intimates that, in a fact of such a nature, he should 
have refused his assent to any meaner authority. This 
motive of credibility could not survive the power of 
the Flavian family ; and the celestial sign, which the 
Infidels might afterwards deride, was disregarded by the 
Christians of the age which immediately followed the 

28 The silence of the same Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical 
History, is deeply felt by those advocates for the miracle who 
are not absolutely callous. 

'^ The narrative of Constantine seems to indicate that he 
saw the cross in the sky before he passed the Alps against 
Maxentius. The scene has been fixed by provincial vanity at 
Treves, Besan9on, &c. 

30 The pious Tillemont rejects with a sigh the useful Acts of 
Artemius, a veteran and a martyr, who attests as an eye-witness 
the vision of Constantine. 


conversion of Constantine.^^ But the Catholic Church, 
both of the East and of the West, has adopted a pro- 
digy, which favours, or seems to favour, the popular 
worship of the cross. The vision of Constantine main- 
tained an honourable place in the legend of super- 
stition, till the bold and sagacious spirit of criticism 
presumed to depreciate the triumph, and to arraign 
the truth of the first Christian emperor. ^^^ 

The protestant and philosophic readers of the 
present age will incline to believe that, in the account 
of his own conversion Constantine attested a wilful 
falsehood by a solemn and deliberate perjury. They 
may not hesitate to pronounce that, in the choice of a 
religion, his mind was determined only by a sense of 
interest ; and that (according to the expression of a 
profane poet) he used the altars of the church as a 
convenient footstool to the throne of the empire. A 
conclusion so harsh and so absolute is not, however, 
warranted by our knowledge of human nature, of 
Constantine, or of Christianity. In an age of religious 
fervour, the most artful statesmen are observed to feel 
some part of the enthusiasm which they inspire ; and 
the most orthodox saints assume the dangerous privi- 
lege of defending the cause of truth by the arms of 

31 The advocates for the vision are unable to produce a single 
testimony from the Fathers of the fourth and fifth centuries, 
who, in their voluminous writings, repeatedly celebrate the 
triumph of the church and of Constantine. As these venerable 
men had not any dislike to a miracle, we may suspect (and the 
suspicion is confirmed by the ignorance of Jerom) that they 
were all unacquainted with the life of Constantine by Eusebius. 
This tract was recovered by the diligence of those who trans- 
lated or continued his Ecclesiastical History, and who have 
represented in various colours the vision of the cross. 

32 Godefroy was the first who, in the year 1643, expressed any 
doubt of a miracle which had been supported with equal zeal by 
Cardinal Baronius and the Centuriators of Magdeburg. Since 
that time, many of the Protestant critics have inclined towards 
doubt and disbelief. The objections are urged, with great 
force, by M, Chauffepid, and, in the year 1774, a doctor of 
Sorbonne, the Abbd du Voisin, published an Apology, which 
deserves the praise of learning and moderation. 


deceit and falsehood. Personal interest is often the 
standard of our belief, as well as of our practice ; and 
the same motives of temporal advantage which might 
influence the public conduct and professions of Con- 
stautine would insensibly dispose his mind to embrace 
a religion so propitious to his fame and fortune. His 
vanity was gratified by the flattering assurance that he 
had been chosen by Heaven to reign over the earth ; 
success had justified his divine title to the throne,, and 
that title was founded on the truth of the Christian 
revelation. As real virtue is sometimes excited by un- 
deserved applause, the specious piety of Constantine, 
if at first it was only specious, might gradually, by 
the influence of praise, of habit, and of example, be 
matured into serious faith and fervent devotion. The 
bishops and teachers of the new sect, whose dress and 
manners had not qualified them for the residence of 
a court, were admitted to the Imperial table ; they 
accompanied the monarch in his expeditions ; and 
the ascendant which one of them, an Egyptian or a 
Spaniard,^^ acquired over his mind was imputed by the 
Pagans to the efl^ect of magic. Lactantius, who has 
adorned the precepts of the gospel with the eloquence 
of Cicero,^ and Eusebius, who has consecrated the 
learning and philosophy of the Greeks to the service 
of religion,'^ were both received into the friendship 
and familiarity of their sovereign : and those able 
masters of controversy could patiently watch the soft 
and yielding moments of persuasion, and dexterously 
apply the arguments which were the best adapted to 

^ This favourite was probably the great Osius, bishop of 
Cordova, who preferred the pastoral care of the whole church 
to the government of a particular diocese. His character is 
magnificently, though concisely, expressed by Athanasius (torn. i. 
p. 703). Osius was accused, perhaps unjustly, of retiring from 
court with a very ample fortune. 

** The Christianity of Lactantius was of a moral rather than 
of a mysterious cast. 

35 Fabricius, with his usual diligence, has collected a list 
of between three and four hundred authors quoted in the 
Evangelical Preparation of Eusebius. 


his character and understanding. ^TTiatever advan- 
tages might be derived from the acquisition of an 
Imperial proselyte, he was distinguished by the splen- 
dour of his purple, rather than by the superiority of 
wisdom or virtue, from the many thousands of his 
subjects who had embraced the doctrines of Chris- 
tianity. Nor can it be deemed incredible that the 
mind of an unlettered soldier should have yielded to 
the weight of evidence, which, in a more enlightened 
age, has satisfied or subdued the reason of a Grotius, 
a Pascal, or a Locke. In the midst of the incessant 
labours of his great office, this soldier employed, or 
aifected to employ, the hours of the night in the 
diligent study of the Scriptures and the composition 
of theological discourses ; which he afterwards pro- 
nounced in the presence of a numerous and applaud- 
ing audience. In a very long discourse, which is still 
extant, the royal preacher expatiates on the various 
proofs of religion ; but he dwells with peculiar com- 
placency on the Sybilline yerses,^'^ and the fourth 
eclogue of Virgil.^" Forty years before the birth of 
Christ, the Mantuan bard, as if inspired by the celes- 
tial muse of Isaiah, had celebrated, with all the pomp 
of oriental metaphor, the return of the Virgin, the fall 
of the serpent, the approaching birth of a god-like child, 
the offspring of the great Jupiter, who should expiate 
the guilt of human kind, and govern the peaceful uni- 
verse with the virtues of his father ; the rise and appear- 
ance of an heavenly race, a primitive nation throughout 
the world : and the gradual restoration of the innocence 
and felicity of the golden age. The poet was perhaps 
unconscious of the secret sense and object of these 
sublime predictions, which have been so unworthily 

36 He chiefly depends on a mysterious acrostic, composed in 
the sixth age after the Deluge by the Erythraean Sybil, and 
translated by Cicero into Latin. The initial letters of the 
thirty-four Greek verses form this prophetic sentence : Jesus 
Christ, Son of God, Saviour of the World. 

37 In his paraphrase of Virgil, the emperor has frequently 
assisted and improved the literal sense of the Latin text. 


applied to the infant s;ou of a consul or a triumvir :^ 
but, if a more splendid, and indeed specious, interpre- 
tation of the fourth eclogue contributed to the conver- 
sion of the first Christian emperor, Virgil may deserve 
to be ranked among the most successful missionaries 
of the gospel. 

Tlie awful mysteries of the Christian faith and 
worship were concealed from the eyes of strangers, and 
even of catechumens, with an affected secrecy, which 
served to excite their wonder and curiosity. But the 
severe rules of discipline which the prudence of the 
bishops had instituted were relaxed by the same pru- 
dence in favour of an Imperial proselyte, whom it 
was so important to allure, by every gentle condescen- 
sion, into the pale of the church ; and Coustantine 
was permitted, at least by a tacit dispensation, to enjoy 
most of the privileges, before he had contracted any of 
the obligations, of a Christian. Insteadiof retiring from 
the congregation when the voice of the deacon dis- 
missed the profane multitude, he prayed with the 
faithful, disputed with the bishops, preached on the 
most sublime and intricate subjects of theology, cele- 
brated with sacred rites the vigil of Easter, and publicly 
declared himself, not only a partaker, but in some 
measure a priest and hierophant of the Christian 
mysteries. The pride of Constantine might assume, 
and his services had deserved, some extraordinary 
distinction : an ill-timed rigour might have blasted the 
unripened fruits of his conversion ; and, if the doors of 
the church had been strictly closed against a prince 
who had deserted the altars of the gods, the master of 
the empire would have been left destitute of any form 
of religious worship. In his last visit to Rome, he 
piously disclaimed and insulted the superstition of his 
ancestors by refusing to lead the military procession of 
the equestrian order and to offer the public vows to 
the Jupiter of the Capitoline Hill. Many years before 

38 The different claims of an elder and younger son of PoUio, 
of Julia, of Drusus, of Marcellus, are found to be incompatible 
with chronology, history, and the good sense of Virgil, 


his baptism and death, Constantine had proclaimed to 
the world that neither his person nor his image should 
ever more be seen within the walls of an idolatrous 
temple ; while he distributed through the provinces 
a variety of medals and pictures, which represented 
the emperor in an humble and suppliant posture of 
Christian devotion. 

The pride of Constantine, who refused the privileges 
of a catechumen, cannot easily be explained or ex- 
cused ; but the delay of his baptism may be justified 
by the maxims and the practice of ecclesiastical anti- 
quity. The sacrament of baptism ^^ was regularly ad- 
ministered by the bishop himself, with his assistant 
clergy, in the cathedral church of the diocese, during 
the fifty days between the solemn festivals of Easter 
and Pentecost ; and this holy term admitted a numerous 
band of infants and adult persons into the bosom of 
the church. The discretion of parents often suspended 
the baptism of their children till they could under- 
stand the obligations which they contracted ; the 
severity of ancient bishops exacted from the new- 
converts a noviciate of two or three years ; and the 
catechumens themselves, from different motives of a 
temporal or a spiritual nature, were seldom impatient 
to assume the character of perfect and initiated Chris- 
tians. The sacrament of baptism was supposed to con- 
tain a full and absolute expiation of sin ; and the soul 
was instantly restored to its original purity, and en- 
titled to the promise of eternal salvation. Among the 
prosehi:e5 of Christianity, there were many who judged 
it imprudent to precipitate a salutary rite, which could 
not be repeated ; to throw away an inestimable privi- 
lege, which could never be recovered. By the delay of 
their baptism, they could venture freely to indulge their 
passions in the enjoyments of this world, while they still 

39 One circumstance may be observed, in which the modern 
churches have materially departed from the ancient custom. 
The sacrament of baptism (even when it was administered to 
infants) was immediately followed by confirmation and the 
holv communion. 


retained in their own Lands the means of a sure and 
easy absolution.'^ The sublime theory of the gospel had 
made a much fainter impression on the heart than on the 
understanding of Constantine himself. He pursued the 
great object of his ambition through the dark and bloody 
paths of war and policy ; aiid^ after the victory, he 
abandoned himself, without moderation, to the abuse of 
his fortune. Instead of asserting his just superiority 
above the imperfect heroism and profane philosophy of 
Trajan and the Antonnines, the mature age of Con- 
stantine forfeited the reputation which he had acquired 
in his youth. As he gradually advanced in the know- 
ledge of truth, he proportionably declined in the 
practice of virtue ; and the same year of his reign in 
which he convened the council of Nice was polluted by 
the execution, or rather murder, of his eldest son. Tliis 
date is alone sufficient to refute the ignorant and 
malicious suggestions of Zosimus,*^ who affirms that, 
after the death of Crispus, the remorse of his father ac- 
cepted from the ministers of Christianity the expiation 
which he had vainly solicited from the Pagan Pontiffs. 
At the time of the death of Crispus, the emperor could 

*o The fathers, who censured this criminal delay, could not 
deny the certain and victorious efficacy even of a deathbed 
baptism. The ingenious rhetoric of Chrysostom could find 
only three arguments against these prudent Christians, i. 
That we should love and pursue virtue for her own sake, and 
not merely for the reward. 2. That we may be surprised by 
death without an opportunity of baptism. 3. That, although 
we shall be placed in heaven, we shall only twinkle like little 
stars, when compared to the suns of righteousness who have run 
their appointed course with labour, with success, and with 
glory. I believe that this delay of baptism, though attended 
with the most pernicious consequences, was never condemned 
by any general or provinical council, or by any public act or 
declaration of the church. The zeal of the bishops was easily 
kindled on much slighter occasions. 

■1^ For this disingenuous falsehood he has deserved and ex- 
perienced the harshest treatment from all the ecclesiastical 
writers, except Cardinal Baronius (a.d. 324, No. 15-28), who 
had occasion to employ the Infidel on a particular service 
against the Arian Eusebius, 


no longer hesitate in the choice of a religion ; he could 
no long-er be ignorant that tlie church was possessed of 
an infallible remedy, though he chose to defer the ap- 
plication of it, till the approach of death had removed 
the temptation and danger of a relapse. The bishops, 
whom he summoned in his last illness to the palace of 
Nicomedia, were edified by the fervour with wliich he 
requested and received the sacrament of baptism, by 
the solemn protestation that the remainder of his 
life should be worthy of a disciple of Christ, and by 
his humble refusal to wear the Imperial purple after he 
had been clothed in the white garment of a neophyte. 
Tlie example and reputation of Constantine seemed to 
countenance the delay of baptism.*- Future tyrants 
were encouraged to believe that the innocent blood 
which they might shed in a long reign would instantly 
be washed away in the waters of regeneration ; and the 
abuse of religion dangerously undermined the founda- 
tions of moral virtue. 

The gratitude of the church has exalted the virtues 
and excused the failings of a generous patron, who 
seated Christianity on the throne of the Roman world ; 
and the Greeks, who celebrate the festival of the Im- 
perial saint, seldom mention the name of Constan- 
tine without adding the title oi equal to the Apostles. ^^ 
Such a comparison, if it allude to the character of those 
divine missionaries, must be imputed to the extra- 
vagance of impious flattery. But, if the parallel is 
confined to the extent and number of their evangelic 
victories, the success of Constantine might perhaps 
equal that of the Apostles themselves. By the edicts 
of toleration he removed the temporal disadvantages 
which had hitherto retarded the progress of Chris- 
tianity ; and its active and numerous ministers received 
a free permission, a liberal encouragement, to re- 

42 The bishop of Caesarea supposes the salvation of Constan- 
tine with the most perfect confidence. 

^ The Greeks, the Russians, and, in the darker ages, the 
Latins themselves have been desirous of placing Constantine in 
the catalogue of saints. 

VOL. 11. xc 


commend the salutary truths of revelation by every 
argument which could affect the reason or piety of 
mankind. The, exact balance of the two religion?- 
continued but a moment ; and the piercing eye ot 
ambition and avarice soon discovered that the profes- 
sion of Christianity might contribute to the interest ot 
the present, as well as of a future, life.*^ The hopes 
of wealth and honours, the example of an emperor, 
his exhortations, his irresistible smiles, diffused con- 
viction among the venal and obsequious crowds which 
usually fill the apartments of a palace. The cities 
which signalised a forward zeal by the voluntary de- 
struction of their temples were distinguished by muni- 
cipal privileges, and rewarded with popular donatives ; 
and the new capital of the East gloried in the singular 
advantage that Constantinople was never profaned by 
the worship of idols. ^° As the lower ranks of society 
are governed by imitation, the conversion of those 
who possessed any eminence of birth, of power, or of 
riches, was soon followed by dependent multitudes.*^ 
The salvation of the common people was purchased at 
an easy rate, if it be true that, in one year twelve 
thousand men were baptized at Rome, besides a pro- 
portionable number of women and children ; and that 

** See the third and fourth books of his hfe. He was ac- 
customed to say that, whether Christ was preached in pretence 
or in truth, he should still rejoice. 

*5 M. de Tillemont (Hist, des Empereurs, torn. iv. p, 374, 
616) has defended, with strength and spirit, the virgin purity 
of Constantinople against some malevolent insinuations of the 
Pagan Zosimus. 

^ The author of the Histoire Politique et Philosophique des 
deux Indes (tom. i. p. 9) condemns a law of Constantine, which 
gave freedom to all the slaves who should embrace Christianity. 
The emperor did indeed publish a law which restrained the Jews 
from circumcising, perhaps from keeping, any Christian slaves. 
But this imperfect exception related only to the Jews ; and 
the great body of slaves, who were the property of Christian 
or Pagan masters, could not improve their temporal condition 
by changing their religion. I am ignorant by what guides the 
Abb6 Raynal was deceived ; as the total absence of quotations 
is the unpardonable blemish of his entertaining history. 


a white garment, with twenty pieces of gold, had been 
promised by the emperor to every convert. The 
powerful influence of Constantiue was not circum- 
scribed by the narrow limits of his life_, or of iiis 
dominions. The education which he bestowed on his 
sons and nephews secured to the empire a race of 
princes whose faith was still more lively and sincere, 
as they imbibed, in their earliest infancy, the spirit, 
or at least the doctrine, of Christianity. War and 
commerce had spread the knowledge of the gospel 
beyond the confines of the Roniiiu provinces ; and the 
Barbarians, who had disdained an humble and pro- 
scribed sect, soon learned to esteem a religion which 
had been so lately embraced by the greatest monarch 
and the most civilised nation of the globe. The Goths 
and Germans who enlisted under the standard of Rome 
revered the cross which glittered at the head of the 
legions, and their fierce countrymen received at the 
same time the lessons of faith and of humanity. The 
kings of Iberia and Armenia worshipped the God of 
their protector ; and their subjects, who have invari- 
ably preserved the name of Christians, soon formed 
a sacred and perpetual connection with their Roman 
brethren. The Christians of Persia were suspected. 
in time of war, of preferring their religion to their 
country ; but, as long as peace subsisted between the 
two empires, the persecuting spirit of the Magi was 
etfectually restrained by the interposition of Constan- 
tine. The rays of the gospel illuminated the coast of 
India. The colonies of Jews, who had penetrated 
into Arabia and ^Ethiopia, opposed the progress of 
Christianity ; but the labour of the missionaries was 
in some measure facilitated by a previous knowledge 
of the Mosaic revelation ; and Abyssinia still reveres 
the memory of Frumentius, who, in the time of Con- 
stantine, devoted his life to the conversion of those 
sequestered regions. Under the reign of his son 
ConstantiuSj Theophilus,"*'' who was himself of Indian 

*7 Theophilus had been given in his infancy as a hostage by 
his countrymen of the isle of Diva, and was educated by the 


extraction^ was invested with the double character of 
ambassador and bishop. He embarked on the Red 
Sea with two hundred horses of the purest breed of 
Cappadocia^ which were sent by the emperor to the 
prince of the Sabaeans, or Homerites. Theophilus 
was entrusted with many other useful or curious 
presents, which might raise the admiration and con- 
ciliate the friendship of the Barbarians ; and he suc- 
cessfully employed several years in a pastoral visit to 
the churches of the torrid zone. 

The irresistible power of the Roman emperors was 
displayed in the important and dangerous change of 
the national religion. The terrors of a military force 
silenced the faint and unsupported murmurs of the 
Pagans, and there was reason to expect that the cheer- 
ful submission of the Christian clergy, as well as 
people, would be the result of conscience and gratitude. 
It was long since established, as a fundamental maxim 
of the Roman constitution, that every rank of citizens 
were alike subject to the laws, and that the care of 
religion was the right as well as duty of the civil 
magistrate. Constantine and his successors could not 
easily persuade themselves that they had forfeited, 
by their conversion, any branch of the Imperial pre- 
rogatives, or that they were incapable of giving laws 
to a religion which they had protected and embraced. 
The emperors still continued to exercise a supreme 
jurisdiction over the ecclesiastical order ; and the 
sixteenth book of the Theodosian code represents, 
under a variety of titles, the authority which they 
assumed in the government of the Catholic church. 

But the distinction of the spiritual and temporal 
powers, which had never been imposed on the free 
spirit of Greece and Rome, was introduced and con- 
firmed by the legal establishment of Christianity. The 
office of supreme pontiff, which, from the time of 
Xuma to that of Augustus, had always been exercised 

Romans in learning and piety. The Maldives, of which Male, 
or Diva, may be the capital, are a cluster of 190c or 2000 minute 
islands in the Indian ocean. 


by oue of the most eminent of the senators, was at 
length united to the Imperial dig-nity. The first 
magistrate of the state^ as often as he was prompted 
by superstition or policy^, performed with his own 
hands* the sacerdotal functions ; nor was there any 
order of priests^ either at Rome or in the provinces, 
"Jrho claimed a more sacred character among men, or 
a more intimate communication with the Gods. But 
in the Christian church, which entrusts the service 
of the altar to a perpetual succession of consecrated 
ministers, the monarch, whose spiritual rank is less 
honourable than that of the meanest deacon, was 
seated below the rails of the sanctuary, and confounded 
with the rest of the faithful multitude.*^ The emperor 
might be saluted as the father of his people, but he 
owed a filial duty and reverence to the fathers of the 
church ; and the same marks of respect which Con- 
stantine had paid to the persons of saints and confessors 
were soon exacted by the pride of the episcopal order>^ 
A secret conflict between the civil and ecclesiastical 
jurisdictions embarrassed the operations of the Roman 
government ; and a pious emperor was alarmed by the 
guilt and danger of touching with a profane hand the 
ark of the covenant. The separation of men into the 
two orders of the clergy and of the laity was, indeed, 
familiar to many nations of antiquity ; and the priests 
of India, of Persia, of Assyria, of Judea, of Ethiopia, 
of Egypt, and of Gaul, derived from a celestial origin 
the temporal power and possessions which they had 
acquired. These venerable institutions had gradually 
assimilated themselves to the manners and government 

*^ Something of a contrary practice had insensibly prevailed 
in the church of Constantinople ; but the rigid Ambrose com- 
manded Theodosius to retire below the rails, and taught him 
to know the difference between a king and a priest. 

^ At the table of the emperor Maximus, Martin, bishop of 
Tours, received the cup from an attendant, and gave it to the 
presbyter his companion, before he allowed the^ emperor to 
drink ; the empress waited on Martin at table. Yet it may be 
doubted, whether these extraordinary compliments were paid 
to the bishop or the saint. 


of their respective countries ;^ but the opposition or 
contempt of the civil power served to cement the 
discipline of the primitive church. The Christians 
had been obliged to elect their own magistrates, to 
raise and distribute a peculiar revenue, and to regulate 
the internal policy of their republic by a code of laws, 
which were ratified by the consent of the people and 
the practice of three hundred years. When Constan- 
tino embraced the faith of the Christians, he seemed 
to contract a perpetual alliance with a distinct and 
independent society ; and the privileges granted or 
confirmed by that emperor, or by his successors, were 
accepted, not as the precarious favours of the court, 
but as the just and unalienable rights of the ecclesias- 
tical order. 

The Catholic Church was administered by the spiritual 
and legal jurisdiction of eighteen hundred bishops ; ^^ 
of whom one thousand were seated in the Greek, and 
eight hundred in the Latin, provinces of the empire. 
The extent and boundaries of their respective dioceses 
had been variously and accidentally decided by the 
zeal and success of the first missionaries, by the wishes 
of the people, and by the propagation of the gospel. 
Episcopal churches were closely planted along the 
l)anks of the Nile, on the sea-coast of Africa, in the 
proconsular Asia, and through the southern provinces 
of Italy. The bishops of Gaul and Spain, of Thrace 
and Pontus, reigned over an ample territory, and 
delegated their rural suifragans to execute the sub- 
ordinate duties of the pastoral office. A Christian 

50 Plutarch, in his treatise of Isis and Osiris, informs us that 
the kings of Egypt, who were not already priests, were initiated, 
after their election, into the sacerdotal order. 

51 The numbers are not ascertained by any ancient writer, or 
original catalogue ; for the partial lists of the eastern churches 
are comparatively modern. The patient diligei ce of Charles a 
S*« Paolo, of Luke Holstenius, and of Bingham, has laboriously 
investigated all the episcopal sees of the Catholic Church, which 
was almost commensurate with the Roman empire. The ninth 
book of the Christian Antiquities is a very accurate map of 
ecclesiastical geography 

312-438 OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE 359 

diocese miffht be spread over a province or reduced to 
a villa^re ; but all the bishops pos?;essed an equal and 
indelible character : they all derived the same powers 
and privileges from the apostles, from the people, and 
from the laws. ^Vhile the civil and military professions 
were separated by the policy of Constantine, a new 
and perpetual order of ecclesiastical ministers, always 
respectable, sometimes dangerous, was established in 
the church and state. The important review of their 
station and attributes may be distributed under the 
following heads : I. Popular election. II. Ordination 
of the clergy. III. Property. IV. Civil jurisdiction. 
V. Spiritual censures. VI. Exercise of public oratory. 
VII. Privilege of legislative assemblies. 

I. The freedom of elections subsisted long after the 
legal establishment of Christianity ; and the subjects 
of Rome enjoyed in the church the privilege which 
they had lost in the republic, of choosing the magis- 
trates whom they were bound to obey. As soon as a 
bishop had closed his eyes, the metropolitan issued a 
commission to one of his suffragans to administer the 
vacant see, and prepare, within a limited time, the 
future election. The right of voting was vested in the 
inferior clergy, who were best qualified to judge of the 
merit of the candidates ; in the senators or nobles of 
the city, all those who were distinguished by their 
rank or property ; and finally in the whole body of the 
people, who, on the appointed day, flocked in multi- 
tudes from the most remote parts of the diocese, and 
sometimes silenced, by their tumultuous acclamations, 
the voice of reason and the laws of discipline. These 
acclamations might accidentally fix on the head of the 
most deserving competitor ; of some ancient presbyter, 
some holy monk, or some la\Tnan, conspicuous for his 
zeal and piety. But the episcopal chair was solicited, 
especially in the great and opulent cities of the empire, 
as a temporal rather than as a spiritual dignity. The 
interested views, the selfish and angry passions, the 
arts of perfidy and dissimulation, the secret cor- 
ruption, the open and even bloody violence, which had 


formerly disgraced the freedom of election in the 
commonwealths of Greece and Rome, too often in- 
fluenced the choice of the successors of the apostles. 
While one of the candidates boasted the honours of his 
family, a second allured his judges by the delicacies of 
a plentiful table, and a third, more guilty than his 
rivals, offered to share the plunder of the church among 
the accomplices of his sacrilegious hopea.^^ The civil 
as well as ecclesiastical laws attempted to exclude the 
populace from this solemn and important transaction. 
The canons of ancient discipline, by requiring several 
episcopal qualifications of age, station, &c., restrained 
in some measure the indiscriminate caprice of the 
electors. The authority of the provincial bishops, who 
were assembled in the vacant church to consecrate the 
choice of the people, was interposed to moderate their 
passions and to correct their mistakes. The bishops 
could refuse to ordain an unworthy candidate, and the 
rage of contending factions sometimes accepted their 
impartial mediation. The submission, or the resistance, 
of the clergy and people, on various occasions, afforded 
different precedents, which were insensibly converted 
into positive laws and provincial customs : ^^ but it 
was everywhere admitted, as a fundamental maxim 
of religious policy, that no bishop could be imposed 
on an orthodox church without the consent of its 
members. The emperors, as the guardians of the 
public peace, and as the first citizens of Rome and 
Constantinople, might effectually declare their wishes 
in the choice of a primate : but those absolute mouarchs 
respected the freedom of ecclesiastical elections ; and, 
while they distributed and resumed the honours of the 
state and army, they allowed eighteen hundred per- 
petual magistrates to receive their important offices 

w The epistles of Sidonius ApoUinaris (iv. 25, vii. 5, 9) exhibit 
some of the scandals of the Gallican church ; and Gaul was less 
polished and less corrupt than the East. 

S3 A compromise was sometimes introduced by law or by 
consent : either the bishops or the people chose one of the three 
candidates who had been named by the other party. 

312-438 OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE 361 

from the free suffrages of the people. It was agreeable 
to the dictates of justice, that these magistrates should 
not desert an honourable station from which they could 
not be removed ; but the wisdom of councils en- 
deavoured, without much success, to enforce the 
residence, and to prevent the translation, of bishops. 
The discipline of the West was indeed less relaxed 
than that of the East ; but the same passions which 
made those regulations necessary rendered them 
ineffectual. The reproaches which angry prelates have 
so vehemently urged against each other serve only 
to expose their common guilt and their mutual in- 

II. The bishops alone possessed the faculty of spiritual 
generation ; and this extraordinary privilege might 
compensate, in some degree, for the painful celibacy ^ 
which was imposed as a virtue, as a duty, and at length 
as a positive obligation. The religions of antiquity, 
which established a separate order of priests, dedicated 
a holy race, a tribe or family, to the perpetual service 
of the Gods. Such institutions were founded for pos- 
session rather than conquest. The children of the 
priests enjoyed, with proud and indolent security, their 
sacred inheritance ; and the fiery spirit of enthusiasm 
was abated by the cares, the pleasures, and the endear- 
ments of domestic life. But the Christian sanctuary 
was open to every ambitious candidate who aspired 
to its heavenly promises or temporal possessions. The 
office of priests, like that of soldiers or magistrates, was 
strenuously exercised by those men whose temper and 
abilities had prompted them to embrace the ecclesi- 
astical profession, or who had been selected by a dis- 
cerning bishop as the best qualified to promote the 
glory and interest of the church. The bishops °° (till 

w The celibacy of the clergy during the first five or six cen- 
turies is a subject of discipline, and indeed of controversy, which 
has been very diligently examined. 

^ The subject of the vocation, ordination, obedience, &c. of 
the clergy, is laboriously discussed by Thomassin (Discipline de 
I'Eglise, torn. ii. pp. 1-83) and Bingham (in the fourth book of 
vol.. II. M 2 


the abuse was restrained by the prudence of the laws) 
might constrain the reluctant, and protect the dis- 
tressed ; and the imposition of hands for ever bestowed 
some of the most valuable privileges of civil society. 
The whole body of the Catholic clergy, more numerous 
perhaps than the legions, was exempted by the em- 
perors from all service, private or public, all municipal 
offices, and all personal taxes and contributions which 
pressed on their fellow-citizens with intolerable weight ; 
and the duties of their holy profession were accepted 
as a full discharge of their obligations to the republic.^ 
Each bishop acquired an absolute and indefeasible right 
to the perpetual obedience of the clerk whom he or- 
dained : the clergy of each episcopal church, with its 
dependent parishes, formed a regular and permanent 
society ; and the cathedrals of Constantinople ^^ and 
Carthage maintained their peculiar establishment of 
five hundred ecclesiastical ministers. Tlieir ranks °' 
and numbers were insensibly multiplied by the super- 
stition of the times, which introduced into the church 
the splendid ceremonies of a Jewish or Pagan temple ; 
and a long train of priests, deacons, sub-deacons, 

his Antiquities, more especially the fourth, sixth, and seventh 
chapters). When the brother of St. Jerom was ordained in 
Cyprus, the deacons forcibly stopped his mouth, lest he should 
make a solemn protestation which might invalidate the holy 

5« The charter of immunities which the clergy obtained from 
the Christian emperors is contained in the sixteenth book of the 
Theodosian code ; and is illustrated with tolerable candour by 
the learned Godefroy, whose mind was balanced by the opposite 
prejudices of a civilian and a protestant. 

57 Justinian. Novell, ciii. Sixty presbyters or priests, one 
hundred deacons, forty deaconesses, ninety sub-deacons, one 
hundred and ten readers, twenty-five chanters, and one hundred 
door-keepers; in all, five hundred and twenty-five. This 
moderate number was fixed by the emperor, to relieve the dis- 
tress of the church, which had been involved in debt and usury 
by the expense of a much higher establishment. 

53 The number of seven orders has been fixed in the Latin 
church, exclusive of the episcopal character. But the four 
inferior ranks, the minor orders, are now reduced to empty and 
useless titles. 

312-438 OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE 363 

acolytes, exorcists, readers, singers, and door-keepers, 
contributed, in their respective stations, to swell the 
pomp and harmony of religious worship. The clerical 
name and privilege were extended to many pious fra- 
ternities, who devoutly supported the ecclesiastical 
throne. Six hundred parabolani, or adventurers, visited 
the sick at Alexandria ; eleven hundred copiatce, or 
gravediggers, buried the dead at Constantinople ; and 
the swarms of monks, who arose from the Nile, over- 
spread and darkened the face of the Christian world, 

III. The edict of Milan secured the revenue as well 
as the peace of the church. ^^ The Christians not only 
recovered the lands and houses of which they had 
been stripped by the persecuting laws of Diocletian, 
but they acquired a perfect title to all the possessions 
which they had hitherto enjoyed by the connivance of 
the magistrate. As soon as Christianity became the 
religion of the emperor and the empire, the national 
clergy might claim a decent and honourable main- 
tenance : and the payment of an annual tax might 
have delivered the people from the more oppressive 
tribute which superstition imposes on her votaries. 
But, as the wants and expenses of the church increased 
with her prosperity, the ecclesiastical order was still 
supported and enriched by the voluntary oblations of 
the faithful. Eight years after the edict of Milan, 
Constantine granted to all his subjects the free and 
universal permission of bequeathing their fortunes to 
the holy Catholic church ; and their devout liberality, 
which during their lives was checked by luxury or 
avarice, flowed with a profuse stream at the hour of 
their death. The wealthy Christians were encouraged 
by the example of their sovereign. An absolute 
monarch, who is rich without patrimony, may be 

59 The edict of Milan (de M. P. c. 48) acknowledges, by re- 
citing, that there existed a species of landed property, ad jus 
corporis eorura, id est, ecclesiarum non hominum singulorum 
pertinentia. Such a solemn declaration of the supreme magis- 
trate must have been received in all the tribunals as a maxin^ 
of civil law. 


charitable without merit ; and Constantine too easily 
believed that he should purchase the favour of Heaven, 
if he maintained the idle at the expense of the in- 
dustrious, and distributed among the saints the wealth 
of the republic. The same messenger who carried 
over to Africa the head of Maxentius might be en- 
trusted with an epistle to Caecilian, bishop of Carthage. 
The emperor acquaints him that the treasurers of the 
province are directed to pay into his hands the sum of 
three thousand folles^ or eighteen thousand pounds 
sterling, and to obey his further requisitions for the 
relief of the churches of Africa, Numidia, and Mauri- 
tania. The liberality of Constantine increased in a 
just proportion to his faith, and to his vices. He 
assigned in each city a regular allowance of corn, to 
supply the fund of ecclesiastical charity ; and the 
persons of both sexes who embraced the monastic life 
became the peculiar favourites of their sovereign. 
The Christian temples of Antioch, Alexandria, Jeru- 
salem, Constantinople, &c. displayed the ostentatious 
piety of a prince ambitious, in a declining age, to 
equal the perfect labours of antiquity.*'*^ The form of 
these religious edifices was simple and oblong ; though 
they might sometimes swell into the shape of a dome, 
and sometimes branch into the figure of a cross. The 
timbers were framed for the most part of cedars of 
Libanus ; the roof was covered with tiles, perhaps of 
gilt brass ; and the walls, the columns, the pavement, 
were incrusted with variegated marbles. The most 
precious ornaments of gold and silver, of silk and 
gems, were profusely dedicated to the service of the 
altar ; and this specious magnificence was supported 
on the solid and perpetual basis of landed property. 

60 Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. 1. x. c. 2, 3, 4. The bishop of 
Caesarea, who studied and gratified the taste of his master, pro- 
nounced in public an elaborate description of the church of 
Jerusalem. It no longer exists, but he has inserted in the Life 
of Constantine a short account of the architecture and orna- 
ments. He likewise mentions the church of the holy Apostles 
at Constantinople. 


In the space of two centuries, from the reign of Con- 
stantine to that of Justinian, the eighteen hundred 
churches of the empire were enriched by the frequent 
and unalienable gifts of the prince and people. An 
annual income of six hundred pounds sterling may be 
reasonably assigned to the bishops, who were placed at 
an equal distance between riches and poverty,^^ but 
the standard of their wealth insensibly rose with the 
dignity and opulence of the cities which they governed. 
An authentic but imperfect ^^ rent-roll specifies some 
houses, shops, gardens, and farms, which belonged to 
the three Basilicce of Rome, St. Peter, St. Paul, and 
St. John Lateran, in the provinces of Italy, Africa, 
and the East. They produce, besides a reserved rent 
of oil, linen, paper, aromatics, &c. a clear annual 
revenue of twenty-two thousand pieces of gold, or 
twelve thousand pounds sterling. In the age of 
Constantine and Justinian, the bishops no longer 
possessed, perhaps they no longer deserved, the un- 
suspecting confidence of their clergy and people. The 
ecclesiastical revenues of each diocese were divided 
into four parts ; for the respective uses, of the bishop 
himself, of his inferior clergy, of the poor, and of the 
public worship ; and the abuse of this sacred trust 
was strictly and repeatedly checked.^ The patrimony 
of the church was still subject to all the public imposi- 

61 The revenue of the patriarchs, and the most wealthy . 
bishops, is not expressed ; the highest annual valuation of a 
bishopric is stated at thirty, and the lowest at two, pounds of 
gold ; the medium might be taken at sixteen, but these valua- 
tions are much below the real value. 

62 Every record which comes from the Vatican is justly sus- 
{jected ; yet these rent-rolls have an ancient and authentic 
colour ; and it is at least evident, that, if forged, they were 
forged in a period when/arwij, not kingdoms, were the objects 
of papal avarice. 

^ The legal division of the ecclesiastical revenue does not 
appear to have been established in the time of Ambrose and 
Chrysostom. Simplicius and Gelasius, who were bishops of 
Rome in the latter part of the fifth century, mention it in their 
pastoral letters as a general law, which was already confirmed 
by the custom of Italy. 


tions of the state. The clergy of Rome, Alexandria^ 
Thessalonica, &c. might solicit and obtain some partial 
exemptions ; but the premature attempt of the great 
council of Rimini, which aspired to universal freedom, 
was successfully resisted by the son of Constantine. 

IV, The Latin clergy, who erected their tribunal 
on the ruins of the civil and common law, have 
modestly accepted as the gift of Constantine^"* the 
independent jurisdiction which was the fruit of time, 
of accident, and of their own industry. But the 
liberality of the Christian emperors had actually 
endowed them with some legal prerogatives, which 
secured and dignified the sacerdotal character.^'' 1, 
Under a despotic government, the bishops alone 
enjoyed and asserted the inestimable privilege of being 
tried only by their peers ; and even in a capital ac- 
cusation, a synod of their brethren were the sole judges 
of their guilt or innocence. Such a tribunal, unless 
it was inflamed by personal resentment or religious 
discord, might be favourable, or even partial, to the 
sacerdotal order : but Constantine was satisfied that 

^ From Eusebius (in Vit. Constant. 1. iv. c. 27) and Sozomen 
(1. i. c. 9) we are assured that the episcopal jurisdiction was 
extended and confirmed by Constantine ; but the forgery of a 
famous edict, which was never fairly inserted in the Theodosian 
Code (see at the end, torn. vi. p. 303), is demonstrated byGode- 
froy in the most satisfactory manner. It is strange that M. de 
.Montesquieu, who was a lawyer as well as a philosopher, should 
allege this edict of Constantine (Esprit des Loix, 1. xxix. c. 16) 
without intimating any suspicion. 

85 The subject of ecclesiastical jurisdiction has been involved 
in a mist of passion, of prejudice, and of interest. Two of the 
fairest books which have fallen into my hands are the Institutes 
of Canon Law, by the Abb^ de Fleury, and the Civil History 
of Naples, by Giannone. Their moderation was the effect of 
situation as well as of temper. Fleury was a French ecclesi- 
astic, who respected the authority of the parliaments ; Giannone 
was an Italian lawyer, who dreaded the power of the church. 
And here let me observe that, as the general propositions which 
I advance are the result of many particular and imperfect facts, 
I must either refer the reader to those modern authors who have 
expressly treated the subject or swell these notes to a disagree- 
able and disproportioned size. 


secret impunity would be less pernicious than public 
scandal: and. the Nicene council was edified by his 
public declaration that, if he surprised a bishop in the 
act of adultery_, he should cast his Imperial mantle 
over the episcopal sinner. 2. The domestic jurisdiction 
of the bishops was at once a privilejsre and a restraint 
of the ecclesiastical order, whose civil causes were 
decently withdrawn from the cognisance of a secular 
judge. Their venial offences were not exposed to the 
shame of a public trial or punishment ; and the gentle 
correction, which the tenderness of youth may endure 
from its parents or instructors, was inflicted by the 
temperate severity of the bishops. But, if the clergy 
were guilty of any crime which could not be sufficiently 
expiated by their degradation from an honourable and 
beneficial profession, the Roman magistrate drew the 
sword of justice without any regard to ecclesiastical 
immunities. 3. The arbitration of the bishops was 
ratified by a positive law ; and the judges were in- 
structed to execute, without appeal or delay, the 
episcopal decrees, whose validity had hitherto depended 
on the consent of the parties. The conversion of the 
magistrates themselves, and of the whole empire, 
might gradually remove the fears and scruples of the 
Christians. But they still resorted to the tribunal of 
the bishops, whose abilities and integrity they esteemed : 
and the venerable Austin enjoyed the satisfaction of 
complaining that his spiritual functions were perpetu- 
ally interrupted by the invidious labour of deciding 
the claim or the possession of silver and gold, of lands 
and cattle. 4. The ancient privilege of sanctuary was 
transferred to the Christian temples, and extended, 
by the liberal piety of the younger Theodosius, to the 
precincts of consecrated ground.^ The fugitive, and 

^ In the works of Fra Paolo (torn. iv. p. 192, &c.) there is an 
excellent discourse on the origin, claims, abuses, and limits of 
sanctuaries. He justly observes that ancient Greece might per- 
haps contain fifteen or twenty asyla or sanctuaries ; a number 
which at present may be found in Italy within the walls of a 
single city. 


even guilty, suppliants were permitted to implore either 
the justice or the mercy of the Deity and his ministers. 
The rash violence of despotism was suspended by the 
mild interposition of the church ; and the lives or 
fortunes of the most eminent subjects might be pro- 
tected by the mediation of the bishop. 

V. The bishop was the perpetual censor of the 
morals of his people. The discipline of penance was 
digested into a system of canonical jurisprudence/" 
which accurately defined the duty of private or public 
confession, the rules of evidence,, the degrees of guilt, 
and the measure of punishment. It was impossible to 
execute this spiritual censure, if the Christian pontiff, 
who punished the obscure sins of the multitude, re- 
spected the conspicuous vices and destructive crimes of 
the magistrate ; but it was impossible to arraign the 
conduct of the magistrate without controlling the ad- 
ministration of civil government. Some considerations 
of religion, or loyalty, or fear, protected the sacred 
persons of the emperors from the zeal or resentment 
of the bishops ; but they boldly censured and excom- 
municated the subordinate tyrants who were not in- 
vested with the majesty of the purple. St. Athanasius 
excommunicated one of the ministers of Egypt ; and 
the interdict which he pronounced, of fire and water, 
was solemnly transmitted to the churches of Cappa- 
docia.^ Under the reign of the younger Theodosius, 
the polite and eloquent Synesius, one of the descend- 

^ The penitential jurisprudence was continually improved by 
the canons of the councils. But, as many cases were still left 
to the discretion of the bishops, they occasionally published, 
after the example of the Roman Praetor, the rules of discipline 
which they proposed to observe. Among the canonical epistles 
of the fourth century, those of Basil the Great were the most 

68 Basil Epistol. xlvii. in Baronius (Annal. Eccles. A.D. 370 
No. 91), who declares that he purposely relates it, to convince 
governors that they were not exempt from a sentence of excom- 
munication. In his opinion, even a royal head is not safe from 
the thunders of the Vatican ; and the cardinal shows himself 
much more coMiistent than the lawyers and theologians of the 
Gallican church. 


ants of Hercules_,^ filled the episcopal seat of Ptolemais, 
near the ruins of ancient Cyrene, and the philosophic 
bishop supported, with dignity, the character which 
he had assumed with reluctance.^° He vanquished 
the monster of Libya, the president Andronicus, who 
abused the authority of a venal office, invented ne\f 
modes of rapine and torture, and aggravated the guilt 
of oppression by that of sacrilege. After a fruitless 
attempt to reclaim the haughty magistrate by mild 
and religious admonition, Synesius proceeds to inflict 
the last sentence of ecclesiastical justice,"^ which devotes 
Andronicus, with his associates and their families, to 
the abhorrence of earth and heaven. The impenitent 
sinners, more cruel than Phalaris or Sennacherib, 
more destructive than war, pestilence, or a cloud of 
locusts, are deprived of the name and privileges of 
Christians, of the participation of the sacraments, and 
of the hope of Paradise. The bishop exhorts the 
clergy, the magistrates, and the people, to renounce 
all society with the enemies of Christ ; to exclude 
them from their houses and tables ; and to refuse them 
the common offices of life and the decent rites of 
burial. The church of Ptolemais, obscure and con- 
temptible as she may appear, addresses this declaration 
to all her sister churches of the world ; and the profane 

69 The long series of his ancestors, as high as Eurysthenes, 
the first Doric king of Sparta, and the fifth in lineal descent 
from Hercules, was inscribed in the public registers of Cyrene, 
a Lacedaemonian colony. Such a poor and illustrious pedigree 
of seventeen hundred years, without adding the royal ancestors 
of Hercules, cannot be equalled in the history of mankind. 

™ Synesius had previously represented his own disqualifica- 
tions (Epist. cv. pp. 246-250), He loved profane studies and pro- 
fane sports ; he was incapable of supporting a life of celibacy ; 
he disbelieved the resurrection ; and he refusecMo preach fables 
to the people, unless he might be permitted to philosophise 
at home. Theophilus, primate of Egypt, who knew his merit, 
accepted this extraordinary compromise. 

"^1 The sentence of excommunication is expressed in a rhetorical 
style. (Synesius, Epist. Iviii. pp. 201-203.) The method of in- 
volving whole families, though somewhat iinjust, was improved 
into national interdicts. 


who reject her decrees will be involved in the gnilt and 
punishment of Andronicus and his impious followers. 
These spiritual terrors were enforced by a dexterous 
application to the Byzantine court ; the trembling 
president implored the mercy of the church ; and the 
descendant of Hercules enjoyed the satisfaction of 
raising a prostrate tyrant from the ground. Such 
principles and such examples insensibly prepared the 
triumph of the Roman pontiffs, who have trampled on 
the necks of kings. 

VI. Every popular government has experienced the 
effects of rude or artificial eloquence. The coldest 
nature is animated, the firmest reason is moved, by the 
rapid communication of the prevailing impulse ; and 
each hearer is affected by his own passions, and by 
those of the surrounding multitude. The ruin of civil 
liberty had silenced the demagogues of Athens and the 
tribunes of Rome ; the custom of preaching, which 
seems to constitute a considerable part of Christian 
devotion, had not been introduced into the temples of 
antiquity ; and the ears of monarchs were never in- 
vaded by the harsh sound of popular eloquence, till 
the pulpits of the empire were filled with sacred 
orators who possessed some advantages unknown to 
their profane predecessors. ^2 -pi^e arguments and 
rhetoric of the tribune were instantly opposed, with 
equal arms, by skilful and resolute antagonists ; and 
the cause of truth and reason might derive an acci- 
dental support from the conflict ot hostile passions. 
The bishop, or some distinguished presbyter, to whom 
1)6 cautiously delegated the powers of preaching, 
harangued, without the danger of interruption or 
reply, a submissive multitude, whose minds had been 
prepared and, subdued by the awful ceremonies of 
religion. Such was the strict subordination of the 
Catholic church that the same concerted sounds might 
issue at once from an hundred pulpits of Italy or 

72 Preaching was considered as the most important office of 
the bishop ; but this function was sometimes entrusted to such 
presbyters as Chrysostom and Augustin. 


EJ^pt^ if they were tuned ^^ by the master hand of the 
Roman or Alexandrian primate. The design of this 
institution was laudable^ but the fruits were not always 
salutary. The preachers recommended the practice of 
the social duties ; but they exalted the perfection of 
monastic virtue, which is painful to the individual and 
useless to mankind. Their charitable exhortations 
betrayed a secret wish that the clergy might be per- 
mitted to manage the wealth of the faithful for the 
benefit of the poor. The most sublime representations 
of the attributes and laws of the Deity were sullied by 
an idle mixture of metaphysical subtleties, puerile rites, 
and fictitious miracles : and they expatiated, with the 
most fervent zeal, on the religious merit of hating the 
adversaries, and obeying the ministers, of the church. 
When the public peace was distracted by heresy and 
schism, the sacred orators sounded the trumpet of 
discord and perhaps of sedition. The understandings 
of their congregations were perplexed by mystery, 
their passions were inflamed by invectives : and they 
rushed from the Christian temples of Antioch or 
Alexandria, prepared either to suffer or to inflict 
martyrdom. The corruption of taste and language is 
strongly marked in the vehement declamations of the 
Latin bishops ; but the compositions of Gregory and 
Chrysostom have been compared with the most splendid 
models of Attic, or at least of Asiatic, eloquence."* 

VH. The representatives of the Christian republic 
were regularly assembled in the spring and autumn of 
each year : and these synods diffused the spirit of 
ecclesiastical discipline and legislation through the 
hundred and twenty provinces of the Roman world. ^^ 

'3 Queen Elizabeth used this expression, and practised this 
art, whenever she wished to prepossess the minds of her people 
in favour of any extraordinary measure of government. The 
hostile effects of this music were apprehended by her successor, 
and severely felt by his son. " Wlien pulpit, drum ecclesiastic." 

"4 Those modest orators acknowledged that, as they were 
destitute of the gift of miracles, they endeavoured to acquire 
the arts of eloquence. 

"5 The coimcil of Nice, in the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh 


The archbishop or metropolitan was empowered, by tHfe 
laws, to summon the suffrajo;-an bishops of his province, 
to revise their conduct, to vindicate their rights, to de- 
clare their faith, and to examine the merit of the candi- 
dates who were elected by the clergy and people to 
supply the vacancies of the episcopal college. The 
primates of Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Carthage, and 
afterwards Constantinople, who exercised a more ample 
jurisdiction, convened the numerous assembly of their 
dependent bishops. But the convocation of great and 
extraordinary synods was the prerogative of the emperor 
alone. Whenever the emergencies of the church re- 
quired this decisive measure, he despatched a per- 
emptory summons to the bishops, or the deputies of 
each province, with an order for the use of post-horses, 
and a competent allowance for the expenses of their 
journey. At an early period, when Constantino was 
the protector, rather than the proselyte, of Christianity, 
he referred the African controversy to the council of 
Aries ; in which the bishops of York, of Treves, of 
Milan, and of Carthage, met as friends and brethren, 
to debate in their native tongue on the common interest 
of the Latin or Western church. ^^ Eleven years after- 
wards, a njore numerous and celebrated assembly wa? 
convened at Nice in Bithynia, to extinguish, by their 
final sentence, the subtle disputes which had arisen in 
Egypt on the subject of the Trinity. Three hundred 
and eighteen bishops obeyed the summons of their in- 
dulgent master ; the ecclesiastics, of every rank and 
sect and denomination, have been computed at two 
thousand and forty-eight persons ; the Greeks appeared 
in person ; and the consent of the Latins was expressed 

canons, has made some fundamental regulations concerning 
synods, metropolitans, and primates. The Nicene canons 
have been variously tortured, abused, interpolated, or forged, 
according to the interest of the clergy. The Suburbicarian 
churches, assigned (by Rufinus) to the bishop of Rome, have 
been made the subject of vehement controversy. 

'6 We have only thirty-three or forty-seven episcopal sub- 
scriptions : but Ado, a writer indeed of small account, reckons 
six hundred bishops in the council of Aries. 


by the legates of the Roman pontiff. The session, which 
lasted about two months, was frequently honoured by 
the presence of the emperor. Leaving his guards at 
the door, he seated himself (with the permission of the 
council) on a low stool in the midst of the hall. Con- 
stantine listened with patience and spoke with modesty : 
and, while he influenced the debates, he humbly pro- 
fessed that he was the minister, not the judge, of the 
successors of the apostles, who had been established as 
priests and as gods upon earth. Such profound re- 
rerence of an absolute monarch towards a feeble and 
unarmed assembly of his own subjects can only be 
compared to the respect with which the senate had been 
treated by the Roman princes, who adopted the policy 
of Augustus. Within the space of fifty years, a philo- 
sophic spectator of the vicissitude of human affairs might 
have contemplated Tacitus in the senate of Rome, and 
Constantine in the council of Nice. The fathers of the 
capitol and those of the church had alike degenerated 
from the virtues of their founders ; but, as the bishops 
were more deeply rooted in the public opinion, they 
sustained their dignity with more decent pride, and 
sometimes opposed, with a manly spirit, the wishes of 
their sovereign. The progress of time and superstition 
erased the memory of the weakness, the passion, the 
ignorance, which disgraced these ecclesiastical synods ; 
and the Catholic world has unanimously submitted to 
the infallible decrees of the general councils. 








The grateful applause of the clergy has consecrated 
the memory of a prince who indulged their passions 
and promoted their interest. Constantine gave them 
security, wealth, honours, and revenge : and the sup- 
port of the orthodox faith was considered as the most 
sacred and important duty of the civil magistrate 
The edict of Milan, the great charter of toleration, 
had confirmed to each individual of the Roman world 
the privilege of choosing and professing his own re- 
ligion. But this inestimahle privilege was soon vio- 
lated : with the knowledge of truth, the emperor 
imbibed the maxims of persecution ; and the sects which 
dissented from the Catholic church were afflicted and 
oppressed by the triumph of Christianity. Constantine 
easily believed that the Heretics, who presumed to 
dispute his opinions or to oppose his commands, were 
guilty of the most absurd and criminal obstinacy ; and 
that a seasonable application of moderate severities 
might save those unhappy men from the danger of an 
everlasting condemnation. Not a moment was lost in 
excluding the ministers and teachers of the separated 
congregations from any share of the rewards and im- 
munities which the emperor had so liberally bestowed 
on the orthodox clergy. But, as the sectaries might 
still exist under the cloud of royal disgrace, the con- 
quest of the East was immediately followed by an edict 
which announced their total destruction. After a 


preamble filled with passion and reproach, Constantino 
absolutely prohibits the assemblies of the Heretics, and 
confiscates their public property to the use either of 
the revenue or of the Catholic church. The sects 
against whom the Imperial severity was directed appear 
to have been the adherents of Paul of Samosata ; the 
Montanists of Phrygia, who maintained an enthusiastic 
succession of prophecy ; the Novatians, who sternly 
rejected the temporal efficacy of repentance ; the Mar- 
cionites and Valentinians, under whose leading banners 
the various Gnostics of Asia and Egypt had insensibly 
rallied ; and perhaps the Manichaeans, who had recently 
imported from Persia a more artful composition of 
Oriental and Christian theology.^ The design of ex- 
tirpating the name, or at least of restraining the 
progress, of these odious Heretics was prosecuted with, 
vigour and effect. Some of the penal regulations were 
copied from the edicts of Diocletian ; and this method 
of conversion was applauded by the same bishops who 
had felt the hand of oppression and had pleaded for 
the rights of humanity. Two immaterial circumstances 
may serve, however, to prove that the mind of Con- 
stantine was not entirely corrupted by the spirit of 
zeal and bigotry. Before he condemned the Mani- 
chseans and their kindred sects, he resolved to make 
an accurate inquiry into the nature of their religious 
principles. As if he distrusted the impartiality of his 
ecclesiastical counsellors, this delicate commission was 
entrusted to a civil magistrate, whose learning and 
moderation he justly esteemed, and of whose venal 
character he was probably ignorant. The emperor 
was soon convinced that he had too hastily proscribed 

1 After some examination of the various opinions of 
Tillemont, Beausobre, Lardner, &c. I am convinced that 
Manes did not propagate this sect, even in Persia, before tb«; 
year 270. It is strange that a philosophic and foreign heresy 
should have penetrated so rapidly into the African provinces ; 
yet I cannot easily reject the edit of Diocletian against the 
Manichaeans, which may be found in Baronius. (Annal. Eccl. 
A.D. 287.) 


the orthodox faith and the exemplary morals of the 
Novatians, who had dissented from the church in some 
articles of discipline which were not perhaps essential 
to salvation. By a particular edict, he exempted them 
from the general penalties of the law ; ^ allowed them 
to build a church at Constantinople, respected the 
miracles of their saints, invited their bishop Acesius to 
the council of Nice, and gently ridiculed the narrow 
tenets of his sect by a familiar jest, which, from the 
mouth of a sovereign, must have been received with 
applause and gratitude.^ 

The complaints and mutual accusations which as- 
sailed the throne of Constantine, as soon as the death 
of Maxentius had submitted Africa to his victorious 
arms, were ill adapted to edify an imperfect proselyte. 
He learned with surprise that the provinces of that 
great country, from the confines of Cyrene to the 
columns of Hercules, were distracted with religious 
discord. The source of the division was derived from 
a double election in the church of Carthage ; the 
second, in rank and opulence, of the ecclesiastical 
thrones of the West. Caecilian and Majorinus were 
the two rival primates of Africa ; and the death of 
the latter soon made room for Donatus, who, by his 
superior abilities and apparent virtues, was the firmest 
support of his party. The advantage which Caecilian 
might claim from the priority of his ordination was 
destroyed by the illegal, or at least indecent, haste 
with which it had been performed, without expecting 
the arrival of the bishops of Numidia. The authority 
of these bishops, who, to the number of seventy, con- 

2 Cod. Theod. 1. xvi. tit. v. leg. 2. As the general law is 
not inserted in the Theodosian code, it is probable, that in 
the year 438 the sects which it had condemned were already 

3 Sozomen, 1. i. c. 22. Socrates, 1. i. c. 10, These historians 
have been suspected, but I think without reason, of an attach- 
ment to the Novatian doctrine. The emperor said to the 
bishop, "Acesius, take a ladder, and get up to Heaven by 
yourself." Most of the Christian sects have, by turns, borrowed 
the ladder of Acesius. 

314-316 OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE 377 

demned Caecilian and consecrated Majorinus, is again 
weakened by the infamy of some of their personal 
characters ; and by the female intrigues_, sacrilegious 
bargains^ and tumultuous proceedings which are im- 
puted to this Numidian council. The bishops of the 
contending factions maintained, with equal ardour and 
obstinacy, that their adversaries were degraded, or at 
least dishonoured, by the odious crime of delivering 
the Holy Scriptures to the officers of Diocletian. From 
their mutual reproaches, as well as from the story of 
this dark transaction, it may justly be inferred that the 
late persecution had embittered the zeal, without re- 
forming the manners, of the African Christians. That 
divided church was incapable of affording an impartial 
judicature ; the controversy was solemnly tried in 
five successive tribunals which were appointed by the 
emperor ; and the whole proceeding, from the first 
appeal to the final sentence, lasted above three years, 
A severe inquisition, which was taken by the Praetorian 
vicar and the proconsul of Africa, the report of two 
episcopal visitors who had been sent to Carthage, the 
decrees of the councils of Rome and of Aries, and the 
supreme judgment of Constantine himself in his sacred 
consistory, were all favourable to the cause of Caecilian ; 
and he was unanimously acknowledged by the civil and 
ecclesiastical powers as the true and lawful primate of 
Africa. The honours and estates of the church were 
attributed to his suffragan bishops, and it was not 
without difficulty that Constantine was satisfied with 
inflicting the punishment of exile on the principal 
leaders of the Donatist faction. As their cause was 
examined with attention, perhaps it was determined 
with justice. Perhaps their complaint was not without 
foundation, that the credulity of the emperor had been 
abused by the insidious arts of his favourite Osius. The 
influence of falsehood and corruption might procure 
the condemnation of the innocent, or aggravate the 
sentence of the guilty. Such an act, however, of 
injustice, if it concluded an importunate dispute, might 
be numbered among the transient evils of a despotic 


administration, which are neither felt nor remembered 
by posterity. 

But this incident, so inconsiderable that it scarcely 
deserves a place in history, was productive of a memor- 
able schism, which afflicted the provinces of Africa 
above three hundred years, and was extinguished only 
with Christianity itself. The inflexible zeal of freedom 
and fanaticism animated the Donatists to refuse obedi- 
ence to the usurpers whose election they disputed and 
whose spiritual powers they denied. Excluded from 
the civil and religious communion of mankind, they 
boldly excommunicated the rest of mankind, who 
had embraced the impious party of Caecilian, and of 
the Traditors, from whom he derived his pretended 
ordination. They asserted with confidence, and almost 
with exultation, that the Apostolical succession was 
interrupted ; that all the bishops of Europe and Asia 
were infected by the contagion of guilt and schism ; 
and that the prerogatives of the Catholic church were 
confined to the chosen portion of the African believers, 
who alone had preserved inviolate the integrity of 
their faith and discipline. This rigid theory was sup- 
ported by the most uncharitable conduct. Whenever 
they acquired a proselyte, even from the distant 
provinces of the East, they carefully repeated the 
sacred rites of baptism * and ordination ; as they re- 
jected the validity of those which he had already 
received from the hands of heretics or schismatics. 
Bishops, virgins, and even spotless infants were sub- 
jected to the disgrace of a public penance, before they 
could be admitted to the communion of the Donatists. 
If they obtained possession of a church which had been 
used by their Catholic adversaries, they purified the 

4 The councils of Aries, of Nice and of Trent confirmed the 
wise and moderate practice of the church of Rome. The 
Donatists, however, had the advantage of maintaining the 
sentiment of Cyprian, and of a considerable part of the primitive 
church. Vincentius Lirinensis (p. 332, ap. Tilemont, M^m. 
Eccl6s. torn. vi. p. 138) has explained why the Donatists are 
eternally burning with the Devil, while St. Cyprian reigns in 
heaven with Jesus Christ. 


unhallowed building- with the same jealous care which 
a temple of idols might have required. They washed 
the pavement, scraped the walls, burnt the altar, which 
was commonly-of wood, melted the consecrated plate, 
and cast the Holy P^ucharist to the dogs, with every 
circumstance of ignominy which could provoke and 
perpetuate the animosity of religious factions. Not- 
withstanding this irreconcilable aversion, the two 
parties, who were mixed and separated in all the cities 
of Africa, had the same language and manners, the 
same zeal and learning, the same faith and worship. 
Proscribed by the civil and ecclesiastical powers of 
the empire, the Donatists still maintained in some 
provinces, particularly in Numidia, their superior 
numbers ; and four hundred bishops acknowledged the 
jurisdiction of their primate. But the invincible spirit 
of the sect sometimes preyed on its own vitals ; and the 
bosom of their schismatical church was torn by intes- 
tine divisions. A fourth part of the Donatist bishops 
followed the independent standard of the Maximianists. 
The narrow and solitary path which their first leaders 
had marked out continued to deviate from the great 
society of mankind. Even the imperceptible sect of 
the Rogatians could affirm, without a blush, that, when 
Christ should descend to judge the earth, he would 
find his true religion preserved only in a few nameless 
villages of the Caesarean Mauritania. 

The schism of the Donatists was confined to Africa : 
the more diffusive mischief of the Trinitarian con- 
troversy successively penetrated into every part of the 
Christian world. Tlie former was an accidental quarrel, 
occasioned by the abuse of freedom ; the latter was a 
high and mysterious argument, derived from the abuse 
of philosophy. From the age of Constantino to that 
of Clovis and Theodoric, the temporal interests both of 
the Romans and Barbarians were deeply involved in 
the theological disputes of Arianism. The historian 
may therefore be permitted respectfully to with- 
draw the veil of the sanctuary ; and to deduce the 
progress of reason and faith, of error and passion. 


from the school of Plato to the decline and fall of the 

The genius of Plato, informed by his own meditation, 
or by the traditional knowledge of the priests of Egypt,^ 
had ventured to explore the mysterious nature of the 
Deity. When he had elevated his mind to the sublime 
contemplation of the first self-existent, necessary cause 
of the universe, the Athenian sage was incapable of 
conceiving how the simple unity of his essence could 
admit the infinite variety of distinct and successive 
ideas which compose the model of the intellectual 
world ; how a Being purely incorporeal could execute 
that perfect model, and mould with a plastic hand the 
rude and independent chaos. The vain hope of ex- 
tricating himself from these difficulties, which must ever 
oppress the feeble powers of the human mind, might 
induce Plato to consider the divine nature under the 
threefold modification : of the first cause, the reason 
or Logos, and the soul or spirit of the universe. His 
poetical imagination sometimes fixed and animated 
these metaphysical abstractions ; the three archical or 
original principles were represented in the Platonic 
system of three Gods, united with each other by a 
mysterious and ineffable generation ; and the Logos 
was particularly considered under the more accessible 
character of the Son of an Eternal Father, and the 
Creator and Governor of the world. Such appear to 
have been the secret doctrines which were cautiously 
whispered in the gardens of the academy ; and which, 
according to the more recent disciples of Plato, could 

5 Plato i5!gyptum peragravit ut a sacerdotibus Barbaris 
numeros et caelestia acciperet. Cicero de Finibus, v. 25. The 
Egyptians might still preserve the traditional creed of the 
Patriarchs. Josephus has persuaded many of the Christian 
fathers that Plato derived a part of his knowledge from the 
Jews ; but this vain opinion cannot be reconciled with the 
obscure state and unsocial manners of the Jewish people, 
whose scriptures were not accessible to Greek curiosity till more 
than one hundred years after the death of Plato. See Marsham, 
Canon. Chron. , p. 144. 


not be perfectly understood, till after an assiduous 
Btudv of thirty years. 

The arms of the Macedonians diffused over Asia and 
Eg-ypt the lang-ua^e and learning- of Greece ; and the 
theological system of Plato was taught with less re- 
serve, and perhaps with some improvements, in the 
celebrated school of Alexandria. A numerous colony 
of Jews had been invited, by the favour of the Ptolemies, 
to settle in their new capital. While the bulk of the 
nation practised the legal ceremonies, and pursued the 
lucrative occupations of commerce, a few Hebrews, of 
a more liberal spirit, devoted their lives to religious 
and philosophical contemplation. They cultivated 
with diligence, and embraced with ardour, the theo- 
logical system of the Athenian sage. But their national 
pride would have been mortified by a fair confession 
of their former poverty : and they boldly marked, as 
the sacred inheritance of their ancestors, the gold and 
jewels which they had so lately stolen from their 
Egyptian masters. One hundred years before the 
birth of Christ, a philosophical treatise, which mani- 
festly betrays the style and sentiments of the school 
of Plato, was produced by the Alexandrian Jews, and 
unanimously received as a genuine and valuable relic 
of the inspired Wisdom of Solomon.^ A similar 
union of the Mosaic faith and the Grecian philosophy 
distinguishes the works of Philo, which were composed, 
for the most part, under the reign of Augustus.'' The 
material soul of the universe might offend the piety of 

6 The book of the Wisdom of Solomon was received by 
many of the fathers as the work of that monarch ; and, although 
rejected by the Protestants for want of a Hebrew original, it 
has obtained, with the rest of the Vulgate, the sanction of the 
council of Trent, 

" The Platonism of Philo, which was famous to a proverb, is 
proved beyond a doubt by Le Clerc(Epist. Crit. viii. pp. 211-228). 
Basnage (Hist, des Juifs, 1. iv. c. 5) has clearly ascertained that 
the theological works of Philo were composed before the death, 
and most probably before the birth, of Christ. In such a time 
of darkness, the knowledge of Philo is more astonishing than his 
errors. Bull, Defens. Fid. Nicen. s. i. c. i. p. 12. 


the Hebrews : but they applied the character of the 
Logos to the Jehovah of Moses and the patriarchs ; 
and the Son of God was introduced upon earth under 
a visible, and even human, appearance, to perform 
those familiar offices which seem incompatible with the 
nature and attributes of the Universal Cause.* 

The eloquence of Plato, the name of Solomon, the 
authority of the school of Alexandria, and the consent 
of the Jews and Greeks, were insufficient to establish 
the truth of a mysterious doctrine which might please, 
but could not satisfy, a rational mind. A prophet or 
apostle, inspired by the Deity, can alone exercise a 
lawful dominion over the faith of mankind ; and the 
theology of Plato might have been for ever confounded 
with the philosophical visions of the Academy, the 
Porch, and the Lyceum, if the name and divine at- 
tributes of the Logos had not been confirmed by the 
celestial pen of the last and most sublime of the 
Evangelists.^ The Christian Revelation, which was 
consummated under the reign of Nerva, disclosed to 
the world the amazing secret that the Logos, who was 
with God from the beginning and was God, who had 
made all things and for whom all things had been 
made, was incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth ; 
who had been born of a virgin, and suffered death on 
the cross. Besides the general design of fixing on a 
perpetual basis the divine honours of Christ, the most 
ancient and respectable of the ecclesiastical writers 
have ascribed to the evangelic theologian a particular 

8 This notion, till it was abused by the Arians, was freely 
adopted in the Christian theology. TertuUian (adv. Praxeam, 
c. i6) has a remarkable and dangerous passage. After con- 
trasting, with indiscreet wit, the nature of God and the actions 
of Jehovah, he concludes : Scilicet ut haec de filio Dei non 
credenda fuisse si non scripta essent ; fortasse non credenda 
de Patre licet scripta. 

9 The Platonists admired the beginning of the Gospel of St. 
John, as containing an exact transcript of their own principles. 
But in the third and fourth centuries, the Platonists of Alexandria 
might improve their Trinity by the secret study of the Christian 


intention to confute two opposite heresies, which dis- 
turbed the peace of the primitive church. ^^ I. The 
faith of the Ebionites^ perhaps of the Nazarenes, was 
gross and imperfect. They revered Jesus as the greatest 
of the prophets, endowed with supernatural virtue and 
power. They ascribed to his person and to his future 
reig-n all the predictions of the Hebrew oracles which 
relate to the spiritual and everlasting kingdom of the 
promised Messiah.^^ Some of them might confess that 
he was born of a virgin : but they obstinately rejected 
the preceding existence and divine perfections of the 
Logos, or Son of God, which are so clearly defined in 
the Gospel of St. John. About'fifty years afterwards, 
the Ebionites, whose errors are mentioned by Justin 
Martyr with less severity than they seem to deserve, 
formed a very inconsiderable portion of the Christian 
name. H. The Gnostics, who were distinguished by 
the epithet of Docetes, deviated into the contrary ex- 
treme, and betrayed the human, while they asserted 
the divine, nature of Christ. Educated in the school 
of Plato, accustomed to the sublime idea of the Logos, 
they readily conceived that the brightest ^on, or 
Emanation of the Deity, might assume the outward 
shape and -visible appearances of a mortal ; ^^ but they 
vainly pretended that the imperfections of matter are 
incompatible with the purity of a celestial substance. 
While the blood of Christ yet smoked on Mount 
Calvary, the Docetes invented the impious and ex- 
travagant hypothesis that, instead of issuing from the 
womb of the Virgin, he had descended on the banks 
of the Jordan in the form of perfect manhood ; that 
he had imposed on the senses of his enemies, and of 

10 The Gospel according to St. John is supposed to have been 
published about seventy years after the death of Christ. 

11 The humble condition and sufferings of Jesus have always 
been a stumbling block to the Jews. But this objection has 
obliged the believing Christians to lift up their eyes to a 
spiritual and everlasting kingdom. 

12 The Arians reproached the orthodox party with borrowing 
their Trinity from the Valentinians and Marcionites. 


his disciples ; and that the ministers of Pilate had 
wasted their impotent rage on an airy phantom, who 
seemed to expire on the cross and, after three days, to 
rise from the dead. 

The divine sanction which the Apostle had bestowed 
on the fundamental principle of the theology of Plato 
encouraged the learned proselytes of the second and 
third centuries to admire and study the writings of the 
Athenian sage, who had thus marvellously anticipated 
one of the most surprising discoveries of the Christian 
revelation. The respectable name of Plato was used 
by the orthodox, and abused by the heretics, as the 
common support of truth and error : the authority of 
his skilful commentators, and the science of dialectics, 
were employed to justify the remote consequences 
of his opinions, and to supply the discreet silence of 
the inspired writers. The same subtle and profound 
questions concerning the nature, the generation, the 
distinction, and the equality of the three divine persons 
of the mysterious Triad, or Trinity,^^ were agitated 
in the philosophical, and in the Christian, schools 
of Alexandria. An eager spirit of curiosity urged 
them to explore the secrets of the abyss ; and the 
pride of the professors and of their disciples was 
satisfied with the science of words. But the most 
sagacious of the Christian theologians, the great 
Athanasius himself, has candidly confessed ^^ that, 
whenever he forced his understanding to meditate on 
the divinity of the Logos, his toilsome and unavailing 
efforts recoiled on themselves ; that the more he 
thought, the less he comprehended ; and the more 
he wrote, the less capable was he of expressing his 

"^' If Theophilus, bishop of Antioch, was the first who em- 
ployed the word Triad, Trinity, that abstract term, which was 
already familiar to the schools of philosophy, must have been 
introduced into the theology of the Christians after the middle 
of the second century. 

!•* Athanasius, torn. i. p. 808. His expressisns have an un- 
common energy ; and, as he was writing to Monks, there could 
not be any occasion for him to affect a rational language. 


thoughts. In every step of the inquiry^ we are com- 
pelled to feel and acknowledge the immeasurable dis- 
proportion between the size of the object and the 
capacity of the human mind, "^^'e may strive to ab- 
stract the notions of time, of space, and of matter, 
which so closely adhere to all the perceptions of our 
experimental knowledge. But, as soon as we presume 
to reason of infinite substance, of spiritual genera- 
tion ; as often as we deduce any positive conclusions 
from a negative idea, we are involved in darkness, 
perplexity, and inevitable contradiction. As these 
difficulties arise from the nature of the subject, they 
oppress, with the same insuperable weight, the philo- 
sophic and the theological disputant ; but we may 
observe two essential and peculiar circumstances which 
discriminated the doctrines of the Catholic church 
from the opinions of the Platonic school. 

I. A chosen society of philosophers, men of a liberal 
education and curious disposition, might silently medi- 
tate, and temperately discuss, in the gardens of Athens 
or the library of Alexandria, the abstruse questions 
of metaphysical science. The lofty speculations which 
neither convinced the understanding, nor agitated the 
passions, of the Platonists themselves were carelessly 
overlooked by the idle, the busy, and even the studious 
part of mankind. ^^ But, after the Logos had been re- 
vealed as the sacred object of the faith, the hope, and 
the religious worship of the Christians, the mysterious 
system was embraced by a numerous and increasing 
multitude in every province of the Roman world. 
Those persons who, from their age, or sex, or occupa- 
tions, were the least qualified to judge, who were the 
least exercised in the habits of abstract reasoning, 
aspired to contemplate the economy of the Divine 

15 In a treatise which professed to explain the opinions of 
the ancient philosophers concerning the nature of the gods we 
might expect to discover the theological Trinity of Plato. But 
Cicero very honestly confessed that, though he had translated 
the Timseus, he could never understand that mysterious dia- 

VOL, IJ. ,, 


Nature ; and it is the boast of Tertullian that a Chris- 
tian meelianic could readily answer such questions as 
had perplexed the wisest of the Grecian sages. W'^here 
the subject lies so far beyond our reach, the difference 
between the highest and the lowest of human under- 
standings may indeed be calculated as infinitely small ; 
yet the degree of weakness may perhaps be measured 
by the degree of obstinacy and dogmatic confidence. 
These speculations, instead of being treated as the 
amusement of a vacant hour, became the most serious 
business of the present, and the most useful preparation 
for a future, life. A theology, which it was incumbent 
to believe, which it was impious to doubt, and which it 
might be dangerous, and even fatal, to mistake, became 
the familiar topic of private meditation and popular 
discourse. The cold indifference of philosophy was 
inflamed by the fervent spirit of devotion ; and even 
the metaphors of common language suggested the 
fallacious prejudices of sense and experience. The 
Christians, who abhorred the gross and impure genera- 
tion of the Greek mythology, were tempted to argue 
from the familiar analogy of the filial and paternal 
relations. The character of Son seemed to imply a 
perpetual subordination to the voluntary author of his 
existence ; ^^ but, as tlie act of generation, in the most 
spiritual and abstracted sense, must be supposed to 
transmit the properties of a common nature, they 
durst not presume to circumscribe the powers or tlie 
duration of the Son of an eternal and omnipotent 
Father. Fourscore years after the death of Christ, 
the Christians of Bithynia declared before the tribunal 
of Pliny that they invoked him as a god ; and his 
divine honours have been perpetuated in every age 
and country by the various sects who assume the name 

16 Many of the primitive writers have frankly confessed that 
the Son owed his being to the wi// of the Father. On the other 
hand, Athanasius and his followers seem unwilling to grant 
what they are afraid to deny. The schoolmen extricate them- 
selves from this difficulty by the distinction of a preceding and 
a concomitant wilL 


of his disciples. Their tender reverence for the 
memory of Christ and their horror for the profane 
worship of any created being- would have engaged them 
to assert the equal and absolute divinity of the Logos, 
if their rapid ascent towards the throne of heaven had 
not been imperceptibly checked by the apprehension 
of violating the unity and sole supremacy of the great 
Father of Christ and of the Universe. The suspense 
and fluctuation produced in the minds of the Christians 
by these opposite tendencies may be observed in the 
writings of the theologians who flourished after the 
end of the apostolic asre and before the origin of the 
Arian controversy, 'llieir suffrage is claimed^ with 
equal confidence, by the orthodox and by the heretical 
parties ; and the most inquisitive critics have fairly 
allowed that, if they had the good fortune of possessing 
the Catholic verity, they have delivered their concep- 
tions in loose, inaccurate, and sometimes contradictory 

II. The devotion of individuals was the flrst circum- 
stance which distinguished the Christians from the 
Platonists ; the »ecoud was the authority of the church. 
The disciples of philosophy asserted the rights of in- 
tellectual freedom, and their respect for the sentiments 
of their teachers was a liberal and voluntary tribute, 
which they ofi'ered to superior reason. But the Chris- 
tians formed a Jiumerous and disciplined society ; and 
the jurisdiction of their laws and magistrates was 
strictly exercised over the minds of the faithful. The 
loose wanderings of the imagination were gradually 
conflued by creeds and confessions ; ^'' the freedom of 
private judgment submitted to the public wisdom of 
synods ; the authority of a theologian was determined 
by his ecclesiastical rank ; and the episcopal successors 
of the apostles inflicted the censures of the church on 
those who deviated from the orthodox belief. But in 
an age of religious controversy every act of oppression 
adds new force to the elastic vigour of the mind ; and 

1'^ The most ancient creeds were drawn up with the greatest 



the zeal or obstinacy of a spiritual rebel was sometimes 
stimulated by secret motives of ambition or avarice. 
A metaphysical argument became the cause or pretence 
of political contests ; the subtleties of the Platonic 
school were used as the badij^es of popular factions, 
and the distance which separated their respective tenets 
was enlarged or magnified by the acrimony of dispute. 
As long as the dark heresies of Praxeas and Sabellius 
laboured to confound the Father with the Son,^^ the 
orthodox party might be excused if they adhered more 
strictly and more earnestly to the distinction, than to 
the equality, of the divine persons. But, as soon as the 
heat of controversy had subsided, and the progress of 
the Sabellians was no longer an object of terror to 
the churches of Rome, of Africa, or of Egypt ; the tide 
of theological opinion began to flow with a gentle but 
steady motion toward the contrary extreme ; and the 
most orthodox doctors allowed themselves the use of 
the terms and definitions which had been censured 
in the mouth of the sectaries. ^^ After the edict of 
toleration had restored peace and leisure to the Chris- 
tians, the Trinitarian controversy was revived in the 
ancient seat of Platonism, the learned, the opulent, 
the tumultuous city of Alexandria ; and the flame of 
religious discord was rapidly communicated from the 
schools to the clergy, the people, the province, and 
the East. The abstruse question of the eternity of the 
Logos was agitated in ecclesiastical conferences and 
popular sermons ; and the heterodox opinions of Arius ^ 
were soon made public by his own zeal and by that of 

18 Praxeas, who came to Rome about the end of the second 
century, deceived, for some time, the simplicity of the bishop, 
and was confuted by the pen of the angry Tertullian. 

18 Socrates acknowledges that the heresy of Arius proceeded 
from his strong desire to embrace an opinion the most dia- 
metrically opposite to that of Sabellius. 

20 The figure and manners of Arius, the character and 
numbers of his first proselytes, are painted in very lively colours 
by Epiphanius (tom. i. Hceres. Ixix. 3, p. 729) ; and we cannot 
but regret that he should soon forget the historian, to assume 
the task of controversy. 

318-325 OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE 389 

his adversaries. His most implacable adversaries have 
ackuo\vledg:ed the learning and blameless life of that 
eminent presbyter, who, in a former election, had de- 
clared, and perhaps generously declined, his pretensions 
to the episcopal throne.^^ His competitor Alexander 
assumed the office of his judge. The important cause 
was argued before him ; and, if at tirst he seemed to 
hesitate, he at length pronounced his final sentence, 
as an absolute rule of faith. The undaunted presbyter, 
who presumed to resist the authority of his angry 
bishop, was separated from the communion of the 
church. But the pride of Arius was supported by the 
applause of a numerous party. He reckoned among 
his immediate followers two bishops of Egypt, seven 
presbyters, twelve deacons, and (what may appear 
almost incredible) seven hundred virgins. A large 
majority of the bishops of Asia appeared to support or 
favour his cause ; and their measures were conducted 
by Eusebius of Caesarea, the most learned of the 
Christian prelates, and by Eusebius of Nicomedia, who 
had acquired the reputation of a statesman without 
forfeiting that of a saint. Synods in Palestine and 
Bithynia were opposed to the synods of Egypt. The 
attention of the prince and people was attracted by 
this theological dispute ; and the decision, at the end 
of six years,^^ was referred to the supreme authority of 
the general council of Nice. 

W^hen the mysteries of the Christian faith were 
dangerously exposed to public debate, it might be 
observed that the human understanding was capable 
of forming three distinct, though imperfect, systems 
concerning the nature of the Divine Trinity ; and it 
was pronouncedHhat none of these systems, in a pure 
and absolute sense, were exempt from heresy and error. 

21 Yet the credibility of Philostorgius is lessened in the eyes 
of the orthodox by his Arianism ; and in those of rational 
critics by his passion, his prejudice, and his ignorance. 

22 The flames of Arianism might burn for some time in 
secret ; but there is reason to believe that they burst out with 
violence as eai-ly as the year 319. 


L AccordinsT to the first hypothesis, which was main- 
tained by Arius and his disciples, the Logos was a 
dependent and spontaneous production, created from 
nothing by the will of the Father. The Son, by whom 
all things were made,^^ had been begotten before all 
worlds, and the longest of the astronomical periods 
could be compared only as a fleeting moment to the 
extent of his duration ; yet this duration was not in- 
finite, and there had been a time which preceded the 
ineffable generation of the Logos. On this only-begotten 
Son the Almighty Father had transfused his ample 
spirit, and impressed the effulgence of his glory. 
Visible image of invisible perfection, he saw, at an 
immeasurable distance beneath his feet, the thrones 
of the brightest archangels : yet he shone only with 
a refiected light, and, like the sons of the Roman 
emperors who were invested with the titles of Caesar 
or Augustus, 2^ he governed the universe in obedience 
to the will of his Father and Monarch. II. In the 
second hypothesis, the Logos possessed all the inherent, 
incommunicable perfections which religion and philo- 
sophy appropriate to the Supreme God. Three dis- 
tinct and infinite minds or substances, three co-equal 
and co-eternal beings, composed the Divine Essence ; 
and it would have implied contradiction that any of 
them should not have existed or that they should ever 
cease to exist. The advocates of a system which seemed 
to establish three independent Deities attempted to 
preserve the unity of the First Cause, so conspicuous 
in the design and order of the world, by the perpetual 
concord of their administration and the essential agree- 
ment of their will. A faint resemblance of this unity 
of action may be discovered in the 5;ocieties of men, 

23 As the doctrine of absolute creation from nothing was 
gradually introduced among the Christians (Beausobre, tom. ii. 
pp. 165-215), the dignity of the workman very naturally rose 
with that of the work. 

^ This profane and absurd simile is employed by several 
of the primitive fathers, particularly by Athenagoras, in his 
Apology to the emperor Marcus and his son ; and it i? alleged, 
without censure, by Bull himself. 


and even of animals. Tlie causes which disturb their 
harmony proceed only from the imperfection and in- 
equality of their faculties : but the omnipotence which 
is g-uided by infinite wisdom and goodness cannot fail 
of choosing the same means for the accomplishment 
of the same ends. III. Three Beings, who, by the 
self-derived necessity of their existence, possess all the 
divine attributes in the most perfect degree ; who are 
eternal in duration, infinite in space, and intimately 
present to each other and to the whole universe ; 
irresistibly force themselves on the astonished mind as 
one and the same Being, who, in the economy of grace, 
as well as in that of nature, may manifest himself 
under different forms, and be considered under dif- 
ferent aspects. By this hypothesis, a real substantial 
Trinity is refined into a trinity of names and abstract 
modifications, that subsist only in the mind which 
conceives them. Ilie Logos is no longer a person, but 
an attribute ; and it is only in a figurative sense that 
the epithet of Son can be applied to the eternal reason 
which was with God from the beginning, and by which, 
not by whom, all things were made. The incarnation 
of the Logos is reduced to a mere inspiration of the 
Divine Wisdom, which filled the soul, and directed aU 
the actions, of the man Jesus. Tlius, after revolving 
round the theological circle, we are surprised to find 
that the Sabellian ends where the Ebionite had begun ; 
and that the incomprehensible mystery which excites 
our adoration eludes our inquiry. -° 

If the bishops of the council of Nifce had been per- 
mitted to follow the unbiassed dictates of their con- 
science, Arius and his associates could scarcely have 
flattered themselves with the hopes of obtaining a 
majority of votes, in favour of an hypothesis so directly 
adverse to the two most popular opinions of the 

25 If the Sabellians were startled at this conclusion, they 
were driven down another precipice into the confession, that 
the Father was born of a virgin, that ke had suffered on the 
cross ; and thus deserved the odious epithet of Patri-passians, 
with which they were branded by their adversaries. 


Catholic world. The Arians soon perceived the danger 
of their situation, and prudently assumed those modest 
virtues which, in the fury of civil and religious dissen- 
sions, are seldom practised, or even praised, except by 
the weaker party. They recommended the exercise of 
Christian charity and moderation ; urged the incom- 
prehensible nature of the controversy ; disclaimed the 
use of any terms or definitions which could not be 
found in the scriptures ; and offered, by very liberal 
concessions, to satisfy their adversaries without re- 
nouncing the integrity of their own principles. The 
victorious faction received all their proposals with 
haughty suspicion ; and anxiously sought for some 
irreconcilable mark of distinction, the rejection of 
which might involve the Arians in the guilt and conse- 
quences of heresy. A letter was publicly read, and 
ignominiously torn, in which their patron, Eusebius of 
Nicomedia, ingenuously confessed that the admission 
of the HoMOOusioN, or Consubstantial, a word already 
familiar to the Platonists, was incompatible with the 
principles of their theological system. The fortunate 
opportunity was eagerly embraced by the bishops who 
governed the resolutions of the synod ; and, according 
to the lively expression of Ambrose, they used the 
sword, which heresy itself had drawn from the scabbard, 
to cut off the head of the hated monster. The con- 
substantiality of the Father and the Son was established 
by the council of Nice, and has been unanimously 
received as a fundamental article of the Christian faith, 
by the consent of the Greek, the Latin, the Oriental, 
and the Protestant churches. But, if the same word 
had not served to stigmatise the heretics and to unite 
the Catholics, it would have been inadequate to the 
purpose of the majority by whom it was introduced 
into the orthodox creed. This majority was divided 
into two parties, distinguished by a contrary tendency 
to the sentiments of the Tritheists and of the Sabellians. 
But, as those opposite extremes seemed to overthrow 
the foundations either of natural or revealed religion, 
they mutually agreed to qualify the rigour of their 


principles and to disavow the just, but invidious, con- 
sequences which might be urged by their antagonists. 
The interest of the common cause inclined them to join 
their numbers and to conceal their differences ; their 
animosity was softened by the healing councils of 
toleration, and their disputes were suspended by the 
use of the mysterious Homoousion , which either party 
was free to interpret according to their peculiar tenets. 
The Sabellian sense, which, about fifty years before, 
had obliged the council of Antioch to prohibit this 
celebrated term, had endeared it to those theologians 
who entertained a secret but partial affection for a 
nominal Trinity. But the more fashionable saints of 
the Ariau times, the intrepid Athanasius, the learned 
Gregory Nazianzen, and the other pillars of the church, 
who supported with ability and success the Nicene 
doctrine, appeared to consider the expression of sub- 
stance as if it had been synonymous with that of nature ; 
and they ventured to illustrate their meaning by affirm- 
ing that three men, as they belong to the same common 
species, are consubstantial or homoousian to each other. 
This pure and distinct equality was tempered, on the 
one hand, by the internal connection, and spiritual 
penetration, which iudissolubly unites the divine 
persons ; and on the other, by the pre-eminence of the 
Father, which was acknowledged as far as it is com- 
patible with the independence of the Son.^^ Within 
these limits the almost invisible and tremulous ball of 
orthodoxy was allowed securely to vibrate. On either 
side, beyond this consecrated ground, the heretics and 
the demons lurked in ambush to surprise and devour the 
unhappy wanderer. But, as the degrees of theological 
hatred depend on the spirit of the war rather than on 
the importance of the controversy, the heretics who 
degraded, were treated with more severity than those 
who annihilated, the person of the Son. ' The life of 
Athanasius was consumed in irreconcilable opposition 

2« The third section of Bull's Defence of the Nicene Faith, 
which some of his antagonists have called nonsense, and others 
heresy, is consecrated to the supremacy of the Father. 

VOL. II. N 2 


to the impious madness of the Arians;^^ but he defended 
above tweuty years the Sabellianism of Marcellus of 
Ancyra ; and, when at last he was compelled to with- 
draw himself from his communion_, he continued to 
mention, with an ambiguous smile, the venial errors 
of his respectable friend. 

The authority of a general council, to which the 
Arians themselves had been compelled to submit, in- 
scribed on the banners of the orthodox party the 
mysterious characters of the word Homoousion, which 
essentially contributed, notwithstanding some obscure 
disputes, some nocturnal combats, to maintain and 

{)erpetuate the uniformity of faith, or at least of 
auguage. The Consubstantialists, who by their success 
have deserved and obtained the title of Catholics, 
gloried in the simplicity and steadiness of their own 
creed, and insulted the repeated variations of their 
adversaries, who were destitute of any certain rule of 
faith. The sincerity or the cunning of the Ariau chiefs, 
the fears of the laws or of the people, their reverence 
for Christ, their hatred of Athanasius, all the causes, 
human and divine, that influence and disturb the 
counsels of a theological faction, introduced among the 
sectaries a spirit of discord and inconstancy, which, in 
the course of a few years, erected eighteen different 
models of religion, and avenged the violated dignity 
of the church. The zealous Hilary, ^^ who, from the 
peculiar hardships of his situation, was inclined to 
extenuate rather than to aggravate the errors of the 
Oriental clergy, declares that in the wide extent of 
the ten provinces of Asia, to which he had been 
banished, there could be found very few prelates wlio 
had preserved the knowledge of the true God. The 
oppression which he had felt, the disorders of which he 

27 The ordinary appellation with which Athanasius and his fol- 
lowers chose to compliment the Arians was that of Ariomanites. 

38 Erasmus, with admirable sense and freedom, has delineated 
the just character of Hilary. To revise his text, to compose the 
annals of his life, and to justify his sentiments and conduct, is 
the province of the Benedictine editors. 


was the spectator and the victim, appeased, during a 
short interval, the angry passions of his soul ; and in 
the following passage, of which I shall transcribe a 
few lines, the bishop of Poitiers unwarily deviates into 
the style of a Christian philosopher. ^^It is a thing," 
says Hilary, '^' equally deplorable and dangerous, that 
there are as many creeds as opinions among men, as 
many doctrines as inclinations, and as many sources of 
blasphemy as there are faults among us ; because we 
make creeds arbitrarily, and explain them as arbitrarily. 
The Homoousion is rejected, and received, and ex- 
plained away by successive synods. The partial or 
total resemblance of the Father and of the Son is a 
subject of dispute for these unhappy times. Every 
year, nay every moon, we make new creeds to describe 
invisible mysteries. We repent of what we have done, 
we defend those who repent, we anathematise those 
whom we defended. We condemn either the doctrine 
of others in ourselves or our own in that of others ; 
and, reciprocally tearing one another to pieces, we 
have been the cause of each other's ruin." 

It will not be expected, it would not perhaps be 
endured, that 1 should swell this theological digression 
by a minute examination of the eighteen creeds, the 
authors of which, for the most part, disclaimed the 
odious name of their parent Arius. It is amusing 
enough to delineate the form, and to trace the vege- 
tation, of a singular plant ; but the tedious detail of 
leaves without flowers, and of branches without fruit, 
'would soon exhaust the patience, and disappoint the 
curiosity, of the laborious student. One question 
which gradually arose from the Arian controversy 
may however be noticed, as it served to produce and 
discriminate the three sects who were united only by 
their common aversion to the Homoousion of the 
Nicene synod. 1. If they were asked, whether the 
Son was like unto the Father, the question was resolutely 
answered in the negative by the heretics who ad- 
hered to the principles of Arius, or indeed to those of 
philosophy ; which seem to establish an infinite differ- 


ence between the Creator and the most excellent of 
his creatures. This obvious consequence was main- 
tained by Aetius, on whom the zeal of his adversaries 
bestowed the surname of the Atheist. His restless 
and aspiring spirit urged him to try almost every 
profession of human life. He was successively a slave, 
or at least a husbandman, a travelling tinker, a gold- 
smith, a physician, a schoolmaster, a theologian, and 
at last the apostle of a new church, which was pro- 
pagated by the abilities of his disciple Eunomius.^ 
Armed with texts of scripture, and with captious 
syllogisms from the logic of Aristotle, the subtle 
Aetius had acquired the fame of an invincible dis- 
putant, whom it was impossible either to silence or to 
convince. Such talents engaged the friendship of the 
Arian bishops, till they were forced to renounce and 
even to persecute a dangerous ally, who by the accuracy 
of his reasoning had prejudiced their cause in the 
popular opinion and offended the piety of their most 
devoted followers. 2. The omnipotence of the Creator 
suggested a specious and respectful solution of the 
likeness of the Father and the Son ; and faith might 
humbly receive what reason would not presume to 
deny, that the Supreme God might communicate his 
infinite perfections, and create a being similar only to 
himself. ^'^ These Arians were powerfully supported 
by the weight and abilities of their leaders, who had 
succeeded to the management of the Eusebian interest, 
and who occupied the principal thrones of the East. 
They detested, perhaps with some affectation, the' 

29 According to the judgment of a man who respected both 
those sectaries, Aetius had been endowed with a stronger 
understanding, and Eunomius had acquired more art and 
learning (Philostorgius, 1. viii. c. i8). The confession and 
apology of Eunomius (Fabricius, Biblioth. Graec. tom. viii. pp. 
258-305) is one of the few heretical pieces which have escaped. 

30 Yet, according to the opinion of Estius and Bull (p. 297), 
there is one power, that of creation, which God cannot communi- 
cate to a creature. Estius, who so accurately defined the limits 
of Omnipotence, was a Dutchman by birth, and by trade a 
scholastic divine. 


impiety of Aetius ; they professed to believe, either 
without reserve^ or according to the scriptures, that 
the Son was different from all other creatures and 
similar only to the Father. But they denied that he 
was either of the same or of a similar substance ; 
sometimes boldly justifying their dissent, and some- 
times objecting to the use of the word substance, 
which seems to imply an adequate, or at least a distinct, 
notion of the nature of the Deity. 3. The sect which 
asserted the doctrine of a similar substance was the 
most numerous, at least in the provinces of Asia ; and, 
when the leaders of both parties were assembled in 
the council of Seleucia,^^ their opinion would have pre- 
vailed by a majority of one hundred and five to forty- 
three bishops. The Greek word which was chosen to 
express this mysterious resemblance bears so close an 
affinity to the orthodox symbol, that the profane of 
every age have derided the furious contests which the 
difference of a single diphthong excited between the 
Homoousians and the Homoiousians. As it frequently 
happens that the sounds and characters which approach 
the nearest to each other accidentally represent the 
most opposite ideas, the observation would be itself 
ridiculous, if it vvere possible to mark any real and 
sensible distinction between the doctrine of the Semi- 
Arians, as they were improperly styled, and that of 
the Catholics themselves. The bishop of Poitiers, who 
in his Phrygian exile very wisely aimed at a coalition 
of parties, endeavours to prove that, by a pious and 
faithful interpretation,^^ the Ho?noiou.9ion may be re- 
duced to a consubstantial sense. Yet he confesses that 

31 Sabinus (ap. Socrat. 1. ii. c. 39) had copied the acts ; 
Athanasius and Hilary have explained the divisions of this 
Arian synod ; the other circumstances which are relative to it 
are carefully collected by Baronius and Tillemont. 

32 In his short apologetical notes (first published by the 
Benedictines from a MS. of Chartres) he observes, that he used 
this cautious expression, qui intelligerem et impiam, p. 1206. 
See p. 1 146. Philostorg-ius, who saw those objects through a 
different medium, is inclined to forget the difference of the im- 
portant diphthong. 


the word has a dark and suspicious aspect ; and, as if 
darkness were congenial to theological disputes, the 
Serai-Arians, who advanced to the doors of the church, 
assailed them with the most unrelenting fury. 

The provinces of Egypt and Asia, which cultivated 
the language and manners of the Greeks, had deeply 
imbihed the venom of the Arian controversy. The 
familiar study of the Platonic system, a vain and 
argumentative disposition, a copious and flexible idiom, 
supplied the clergy and people of the East with an 
inexhaustible flow of words and distinctions ; and, in 
the midst of their fierce contentions, they easily forgot 
the doubt which is recommended by philosophy, and 
the submission which is enjoined by religion. The 
inhabitants of the West were of a less inquisitive spirit ; 
their passions were not so forcibly moved by invisible 
objects ; their minds were less frequently exercised 
by the habits of dispute, and such was the happy 
ignorance of the Gallican church that Hilary himself, 
above thirty years after the first general council, was 
still a stranger to the Nicene creed. The Latins had 
received the rays of divine knowledge through the 
dark and doubtful medium of a translation. The 
poverty and stubbornness of their native tongue was 
not always capable of aff'ording just equivalents for the 
Greek terms, for the technical words of the Platonic 
philosophy, which had been consecrated by the gospel 
or by the church to express the mysteries of the 
Christian faith ; and a verbal defect might introduce 
into the Latin theology a long train of error or per- 
plexity.^ But, as the western provincials had the 
good fortune of deriving their religion from an orthodox 
source, they preserved with steadiness the doctrine 
which they had accepted with docility ; and, when 
the Arian pestilence approached their frontiers, they 

33 The preference which the fourth council of the Lateran 
at length gave to a numerical rather than 2i gene/Heal unity (see 
Petav. torn. ii. 1. iv, c. 13, p. 424) was favoured by the Latin 
language; Tptdj seems to excite the idea of substance, irinitas 
of qualities. 


were supplied with the seasonable preservative of the 
Homoousion, by the paternal care of the Roman pontiff. 
Their sentiments and their temper were displayed in 
the memorable synod of Rimini^ which surpassed in 
numbers the council of Nice^ since it was composed of 
above four hundred bishops of Italy, Africa, Spain, 
Gaul, Britain and lllyricum. From the first debates 
it appeared that only fourscore prelates adhered to the 
party, though they affected to anathematise the name 
and memory of Arius. But this inferiority was com- 
pensated by the advantages of skill, of experience, and 
of discipline ; and the minority was conducted by 
Valens and Ursacius, two bishops of lllyricum, who 
had spent their lives in the intrigues of courts and 
councils, and who had been trained under the Eusebian 
banner in the religious wars of the East. By their 
arguments and negotiations, they embarrassed, they 
confounded, they at last deceived, the honest simplicity 
of the Latin bishops ; who suffered the palladium of 
the faith to be extorted from their hands by fraud and 
importunity rather than by open violence. The council 
of Rimini was not allowed to separate, till the members 
had imprudently subscribed a captious creed, in which 
some expressions, susceptible of an heretical sense, 
were inserted in the room of the Homoousion. It was 
on this occasion that, according to Jerom, the world 
was surprised to find itself Arian. But the bishops of 
the Latin provinces had no sooner reached their re- 
spective dioceses than they discovered their mistake 
and repented of their weakness. The ignominious 
capitulation was rejected with disdain and abhorrence ; 
and the Homoousian standard, which had been shaken 
but not overthrown, was more firmly replanted in all 
the churches of the West. 

Such was the rise and progress and such were 
the natural revolutions of those theological disputes 
which disturbed the peace of Christianity under the 
reigns of Constantine and of his sons. But, as those 
pi-inces presumed to extend their despotism over the 
faith, as well as over the lives and fortunes, of their 


subjects ; the weight of their suffrage sometimes in- 
clined the ecclesiastical balance : and the prerogatives 
of the King of Heaven were settled, or changed, or 
modified, in the cabinet of an earthly monarch. 

The unhapuy spirit of discord which pervaded the 
provinces of the East interrupted the triumph of Con- 
stantine ; but the emperor continued for some time to 
view, with cool and careless indifference, the object of 
the dispute. As he was yet ignorant of the difficulty 
of appeasing the quarrels of theologians, he addressed 
to the contending parties, to Alexander and lo Arius, 
a moderating epistle ; which may be ascribed, with far 
greater reason, to the untutored sense of a soldier and 
statesman than to the dictates of any of his episcopal 
counsellors. He attributes the origin of the whole 
controversy to a trifling and subtle question, concern- 
ing an incomprehensible point of the law, which was 
foolishly asked by the bishop, and imprudently resolved 
by the presbyter. He laments that the Christian 
people, who had the same God, the same religion, and 
the same worship, should be divided by such incon- 
siderable distinctions ; and he seriously recommends 
to the clergy of Alexandria the example of the Greek 
philosophers ; who could maintain their arguments 
without losing their temper, and assert their freedom 
without violating their friendship. The indifference 
and contempt of the sovereign would have been, perhaps, 
the most effectual method of silencing the dispute, if 
the popular current had been less rapid and impetuous, 
and if Constantine himself, in the midst of faction and 
fanaticism, could have preserved the calm possession 
of his own mind. But his ecclesiastical ministers soon 
contrived to seduce the impartiality of the magistrate, 
and to awaken the zeal of the prosel}i;e. He was pro- 
voked by the insults which had been offered to his 
statues ; he was alarmed by the real, as well as the 
imaginary, magnitude of the spreading mischief; and 
he extinguished the hope of peace and toleration, from 
the moment that he assembled three hundred bishops 
within the walls of the same palace. The presence of 

324-325 OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE 401 

the monarch swelled the importance of the debate ; his 
attention multiplied the arguments ; and he exposed 
his person with a patient intrepidity, which animated 
the valour of the combatants. Notwithstanding the 
applause which has been bestowed on the eloquence 
and sagacity of ConstantinC;, a Roman general, whose 
religion might be still a subject of doubt, and whose 
mind had not been enlightened either by study or by 
inspiration, was indifferently qualified to discuss, in 
the Greek language, a metaphysical question, or an 
article of faith. But the credit of his favourite Osius, 
who appears to have presided in the council of Nice, 
might dispose the emperor in favour of the orthodox 
party ; and a well-timed insinuation that the same 
Eusebius of Nicomedia, who now protected the heretic, 
had lately assisted the tyrant,34 might exasperate him 
against their adversaries. The Nicene creed was ratified 
by Constantine ; and his fiiTn declaration that those 
who resisted the divine judgment of the synod must 
prepare themselves for an immediate exile annihilated 
the murmurs of a feeble opposition ; which from 
seventeen, was almost instantly reduced to two, pro- 
testing bishops. Eusebius of Cfesarea yielded a re- 
luctant and ambiguous consent to the Homoousion ; ^ 
and the wavering conduct of the Nicomedian Eusebius 
served only to delay, about three months, his disgrace 
and exile. The impious Arius was banished into one 
of the remote provinces of Illyricum ; his person and 
disciples were branded by law with the odious name of 

^ Theodoret has preserved (1. i. c. 20) an epistle from Con- 
stantine to the people of Nicomedia, in which the monarch 
declares himself the public accuser of one of his subjects ; he 
styles Eusebius, 6 rrjs rvpavvLKris u/jlottjtos <rv/j./j.v(TT7)s, and com- 
plains of his hostile behaviour during the civil war. 

35 See in Socrates (1. i. c. 8), or rather in Theodoret (1. i. c. 12), 
an original letter of Eusebius of Cassarea, in which he attempts 
to justify his subscribing the Homoousion. The character of 
Eusebius has always been a problem ; but those who have read 
the second critical epistle of Le Clerc (Ars Crit. tom. iii. pp. 
30-69) must entertain a very unfavourable opinion of the ortho- 
doxy and sincerity of the bishop of Caesarea. 


Porphyrians ; his writings were condemned to the 
flames : and a capital punishment was denounced 
ag-ainst those in whose possession they should be 
found. The emperor had now imbibed the spirit of 
controversy, and the angry sarcastic style of his edicts 
was designed to inspire his subjects with the hatred 
which he had conceived against the enemies of Christ. 
But, as if the conduct of the emperor had been 
guided by passion instead of principle, three years 
from the council of Nice were scarcely elapsed before 
he discovered some symptoms of mercy, and even of 
indulgence, towards the proscribed sect, which was 
secretly protected by his favourite sister. The exiles 
were recalled ; and Eusebius, who gradually resumed 
his influence over the mind of Constantine, was restored 
to the episcopal throne from which he had been igno- 
miniously degraded. Arius himself was treated by the 
whole court with the respect which would have been 
due to an innocent and oppressed man. His faith was 
approved by the synod of Jerusalem ; and the emperor 
seemed impatient to repair his injustice, by issuing an 
absolute command that he should be solemnly admitted 
to the communion in the cathedral of Constantinople. 
On the same day which had been fixed for the triumph 
of Arius, he expired ; and the strange and horrid 
circumstances of his death might excite a suspicion 
that the orthodox saints had contributed more effica- 
ciously than by their prayers to deliver the church 
from the most formidable of her enemies.^^ The 
three principal leaders of the Catholics, Athanasius 
of Alexandria, Eustathius of Antioch, and Paul of 
Constantinople, were deposed on various accusations, 
by the sentence of numerous councils ; and were after- 

36 We derive the original story from Athanasius (torn, i. p. 
670), who expresses some rehictance to stigmatise the memory 
of the dead. He might exaggerate ; but the perpetual com- 
merce of Alexandria and Constantinople would have rendered 
it dangerous to invent. Those who press the literal narrative 
of the death of Arius (his bowels suddenly burst out in a privy) 
must make their option between poison and miracle. 

328-361 OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE 403 

wards banished into distant provinces by the first of the 
Christian emperors, who, in the last moments of his 
life, received the rites of baptism from the Arian bishop 
of Nicomedia. The ecclesiastical government of Con- 
gtantine cannot be justified from the reproach of levity 
and weakness. But the credulous monarch, unskilled 
in the stratagems of theological warfare, might be 
deceived by the modest and specious professions of the 
heretics, whose sentiments he never perfectly under- 
stood ; and, while he protected Arius, and persecuted 
Athanasius, he still considered the council of Nice as 
the bulwark of the Christian faith and the peculiar 
glory of his own reign. 

Tlie sons of Constantine must have been admitted 
from their childhood into the rank of catechumens, 
but they imitated, in the delay of their baptism, the 
example of their father. Like him, they presumed 
to pronounce their judgment on mysteries into which 
they had never been regularly initiated : and the fate 
of the Trinitarian controversy depended, in a great 
measure, on the sentiments of Constantius ; who in- 
herited the provinces of the East, and acquired the 
possession of the whole empire. The Arian presbyter 
or bishop, who had secreted for his use the testament 
of the deceased emperor, improved the fortunate occa- 
sion which had introduced him to the familiarity of a 
prince whose public counsels were always swayed by 
his domestic favourites. The eunuchs and slaves dif- 
fused the spiritual poison through the palace, and the 
dangerous infection was communicated, by the female 
attendants to the guards, and by the empress to her 
unsuspicious husband. The partiality which Con- 
stantius always expressed towards the Eusebian faction 
was insensibly fortified by the dexterous management 
of their leaders ; and his victory over the tyrant 
Magnentius increased his inclination, as well as ability, 
to employ the arms of power in the cause of Arianism. 
While the two armies were engaged in the plains of 
Mursa, and the fate of the two rivals depended on the 
chance of war, the son of Constantine passed the 


anxious moments in a church of the martyrs, under 
the walls of the city- His spiritual comforter, Valens, 
the Arian bishop of the diocese, employed the most 
artful precautions to obtain such early intelligence 
as might secure either his favour or his escape. A 
secret chain of swift and trusty messengers informed 
him of the vicissitudes of the battle ; and, while the 
courtiers stood trembling round their affrighted master, 
Valens assured him that the Gallic legions gave way ; 
and insinuated with some presence of mind that the 
glorious event had been revealed to him by an angel. 
The grateful emperor ascribed his success to the merits 
and intercession of the bishop of Mursa, whose faith 
had deserved the public and miraculous approbation 
of Heaven. The Arians, who considered as their own 
the victory of Constantius, preferred his glory to that 
of his father.3'^ Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem, immediately 
composed the description of a celestial cross encircled 
with a splendid rainbow ; which during the festival 
of Pentecost, about the third hour of the day, had 
appeared over the Mount of Olives, to the edification 
of the devout pilgrims and the people of the holy 
city.^ The size of the meteor was gradually magni- 
fied ; and the Arian historian has ventured to affirm 
that it was conspicuous to the two armies in the plains 
of Pannonia ; and that the tyrant, who is purposely 
represented as an idolater, fled before the auspicious 
sign of orthodox Christianity. 

The sentiments of a judicious stranger, who has 

37 Cyril (apud Baron. A.D. 353, No. 26) expressly observes 
that in the reign of Constantine the cross had been found in ihe 
bowels of the earth ; but that it had appeared, in the reign of 
Constantius, in the midst of the heavens. This opposition 
evidently proves that Cyril was ignorant of the stupendous 
miracle) to which the conversion of Constantine is attributed ; 
and this ignorance is the more surprising, since it was no more 
than twelve years after his death that Cyril was consecrated 
bishop of Jerusalem by the immediate successor of Eusebius of 

38 It is not easy to determine how far the ingenuity of Cyril 
might be assisted by some natural appearances of a solar halo. 


impartially considered the proerress of civil or ecclesi- 
astical discord, are always entitled to our notice : and 
a short passage of Ammianus, who served in the armies, 
and studied the character, of Constantius, is perhaps 
of more value than many pages of theological invectives. 
^'^The Christian religion, which, in itself," says that 
moderate historian, ^^ is plain and simple, he confounded 
by the dotage of superstition. Instead of reconciling 
the parties by the weight of his authority, he cherished 
and propagated, by verbal disputes, the differences 
which his vain curiosity had excited. The highwayg 
were covered with troops of bishops, galloping from 
every side to the assemblies, which they call synods ; 
and, while they laboured to reduce the whole sect to 
their own particular opinions, the public establishment 
of the posts was almost ruined by their hasty and 
repeated journies." Our more intimate knowledge of 
the ecclesiastical transactions of the reign of Con- 
stantius would furnish an ample commentary on this 
remarkable passage ; which j ustifies the rational ap- 
prehensions of Athanasius that the restless activity of 
the clergy, who wandered round the empire in search 
of the true faith, would excite the contempt and 
laughter of the unbelieving world. As soon as the 
emperor was relieved from the terrors of the civil 
war, he devoted the leisure of his winter quarters at 
Aries, Milan, Sirmium, and Constantinople, to the 
amusement or toils of controversy : the sword of the 
magistrate, and even of the tyrant, was unsheathed, 
to enforce the reasons of the theologian ; and, as he 
opposed the orthodox faith of Nice, it is readily con- 
fessed that his incapacity and ignorance were equal to 
his presumption. The eunuchs, the women, and the 
bishops, who governed the vain and feeble mind of the 
emperor, had inspired him with an insuperable dislike 
to the Homoousion ; but his timid conscience was 
alarmed by the impiety of Aetius. The guilt of that 
atheist was aggravated by the suspicious favour of the 
unfortunate Gallus ; and even the deaths of the 
Imperial ministers who had been massacred at Antioch 


were imputed to the suggestions of that dangerous 
sophist. The mind of Coustantius, which could neither 
be moderated by reason nor fixed by faith, was blindly 
impelled to either side of the dark and empty abyss by 
his horror of the opposite extreme : he alternately 
embraced and condemned the sentiments, he succes- 
sively banished and recalled the leaders, of the Ariau 
and Semi-Ariau factions. During the season of public 
business or festivity, he employed whole days, and 
even nights, in selecting the words, and weighing the 
syllables, which composed his fluctuating creeds. The 
subject of his meditation still pursued and occupied 
his slumbers ; the incoherent dreams of the emperor 
were received as celestial visions ; and he accepted 
with complacency the lofty title of bishop of bishops, 
from those ecclesiastics who forgot the interest of their 
order for the gratification of their passions. The de- 
sign of establishing an uniformity of doctrine, which 
had engaged him to convene so many synods in Gaul, 
Italy, lUyricum, and Asia, was repeatedly baffled by 
his own levity, by the divisions of the Arians, and by 
the resistance of the Catholics ; and he resolved, as 
the last and decisive effort, imperiously to dictate the 
decrees of a general council. The destructive earth- 
quake of Nicomedia, the difficulty of finding a con- 
venient place, and perhaps some secret motives of 
policy, produced an alteration in the summons. Tlie 
bishops of the East were directed to meet at Seleucia, 
in Isauria ; while those of the West held their delibera- 
tions at Rimini, on the coast of the Hadriatic ; and, 
instead of two or three deputies from each province, 
the whole episcopal body was ordered to march. Tlie 
eastern council, after consuming four days in fierce 
and unavailing debate, separated without any definite 
conclusion. The council of the West was protracted 
till the seventh month. Taurus, the Praetorian prae- 
fect, was instructed not to dismiss the prelates till they 
should all be united in the same opinion ; and his 
eflforts were supported by a power of banishing fifteen 
of the most refractory, and a promise of the consulship 


if he achieved so difficult an adventure. His prayers 
and threats, the authority of the sovereign, the so- 
phistry of Valens and Ursacius, the distress of cold 
and hunger, and the tedious melancholy of a hopeless 
exile, at length extorted the reluctant consent of the 
bishops of Rimini. The deputies of the East and of 
the \Vest attended the emperor in the palace of Con- 
stantinople, and he enjoyed the satisfaction of imposing 
on the world a profession of faith which established 
the likeness, without expressing the consubstantiality , 
of the Son of God. But the triumph of Arianism had 
been preceded by the removal of the orthodox clergy, 
whom it was impossible either to intimidate or to 
corrupt ; and the reign of Constantius was disgraced 
by the unjust and ineffectual persecution of the great 

We have seldom an opportunity of observing, either 
in active or speculative life, what effect may be pro- 
duced, or what obstacles may be surmounted, by the 
force of a single mind when it is inflexibly applied to 
the pursuit of a single object. The immortal name of 
Athanasius ^ will never be separated from the Catholic 
doctrine of the Trinity, to whose defence he consecrated 
every moment and every faculty of his being. Edu- 
cated in the family of Alexander, he had vigorously 
opposed the early progress of the Arian heresy : he 
exercised the important functions of secretary under 
the aged prelate ; and the fathers of the Nicene council 
beheld, with surprise and respect, the rising virtues of 

39 We may regret that Gregory Nazianzen composed a 
panegyric instead of a life of Athanasius ; but we should 
enjoy and improve the advantage of drawing our most authentic 
materials from the rich fund of his own epistles and apologies 
(tom. i. pp. 670-951). I shall not imitate the example of Socrates 
(1. ii. c. i), who published the first edition of his history without 
giving himself the trouble to consult the writings of Athanasius. 
Yet even Socrates, the more curious Sozomen, and the learned 
Theodoret, connect the life of Athanasius with the series of 
ecclesiastical history. The diligence of Tillemont (tom. viii.) 
and of the Benedictine editors has collected every fact, and ex- 
amined every difficulty. 


the young deacon. In a time of public danger, the 
dull claims of age and of rank are sometimes super- 
seded ; and within five months after his return from 
Nice, the deacon Athanasius was seated on the archi- 
episcopal throne of Egypt. He filled that eminent 
station above forty-six years, and his long administra- 
tion was spent in a perpetual combat against the powers 
of Ariauism. Five times was Athanasius expelled from 
his throne ; twenty years he passed as an exile or a 
fugitive ; and almost every province of the Roman 
empire was successively witness to his merit, and his 
sufferings in the cause of the Homoousion, which he 
considered as the sole pleasure and business, as the 
duty, and as the glory, of his life. Amidst the storms 
of persecution, the archbishop of Alexandria was patient 
of labour, jealous of fame, careless of safety ; and, 
although his mind was tainted by the contagion of 
fanaticism, Athanasius displayed a superiority of char- 
acter and abilities, which would have qualified him, 
far better than the degenerate sons of Constantine, for 
the government of a great monarchy. His learning 
was much less profound and extensive than that of 
Eusebius of Caesarea, and his rude eloquence could not 
be compared with the polished oratory of Gregory or 
Basil ; but, whenever the primate of Egypt was called 
upon to justify his sentiments or his conduct, his un- 
premeditated style, either of speaking or writing, was 
clear, forcible, and persuasive. He has always been 
revered in the orthodox school, as one of the most 
accurate masters of the Christian theology ; and he 
was supposed to possess two profane sciences, less 
adapted to the episcopal character, the knowledge of 
jurisprudence and that of divination. Some fortunate 
conjectures of future events, which impartial reasoners 
might ascribe to the experience and judgment of 
Athanasius, were attributed by his friends to heavenly 
inspiration, and imputed by his enemies to infernal 

But, as Athanasius was continually engaged with 
the prejudices and passions of every order of men. 


from the monk to the emperor, the knowledge of 
human nature was his first and most important science. 
He preserved a distinct and unbroken view of a scene 
which was incessantly shifting ; and never failed to 
improve those decisive moments which are irrecover- 
ably past before they are perceived by a common eye. 
The archbishop of Alexandria was capable of distin- 
guishing how far he might boldly command, and 
where he must dexterously insinuate ; how long he 
might contend with power, and when he must with- 
draw from persecution ; and, while he directed the 
thunders of the church against heresy and rebellion, 
he could assume, in the bosom of his own party, the 
flexible and indulgent temper of a prudent leader. 
The election of Athanasius has not escaped the re- 
proach of irregularity and precipitation ; ^ but the 
propriety of his behaviour conciliated the affections 
both of the clergy and of the people. The Alex- 
andrians were impatient to rise in arms for the de- 
fence of an eloquent and liberal pastor. In his distress 
he always derived support, or at least consolation, 
from the faithful attachment of his parochial clergy ; 
and the hundred bishops of Egypt adhered, with 
unshaken zeal, to the cause of Athanasius. In the 
modest equipage which pride and policy would affect, 
he frequently performed the episcopal visitation of his 
provinces, from the mouth of the Nile to the confines 
of Ethiopia ; familiarly conversing with the meanest 
of the populace, and humbly saluting the saints and 
hermits of the desert.*^ Nor was it only in ecclesi- 
astical assemblies, among men whose education and 
manners were similar to his own, that Athanasius 

•10 The irregular ordination of Athanasius was slightly men- 
tioned in the councils which were held against him ; but it can 
scarcely be supposed that the assembly of the bishops of Egypt 
would solemnly attest a public falsehood. 

41 Athanasius himself, who did not disdain to compose the 
life of his friend Anthony, has carefully observed how often the 
holy monk deplored and prophesied the mischiefs of the Arian 
heresy. Athanas. tom. ii. pp. 492, 498, &c. 


displayed the ascendancy of his genius. He appeared 
with easy and respectful firmness in the courts of 
princes ; and in the various turns of his prosperous 
and adverse fortune, he never lost the confidence of 
his friends or the esteem of his enemies. 

In his youth, the primate of Egypt resisted the 
great Constantino, who had repeatedly signified his 
will that Arius should be restored to the Catholic 
communion. ''^ The emperor respected, and might 
forgive, this inflexible resolution ; and the faction who 
considered Athanasius as their most formidable enemy 
were constrained to dissemble their hatred, and 
silently to prepare an indirect and distant assault, 
Tliey scattered rumours and suspicions, represented 
the archbishop as a proud and oppressive tyrant, and 
boldly accused him of violating the treaty which had 
been ratified in the Nicene council with the schismatic 
followers of Meletius.*^ Athanasius had openly dis- 
approved that ignominious peace, and the emperor was 
disposed to believe that he had abused his ecclesiastical 
and civil power, to persecute those odious sectaries ; 
that he had sacrilegiously broken a chalice in one of 
their churches of Mareotis : that he had whipped or 
imprisoned six of their bishops ; and that Arsenius, a 
seventh bishop of the same party, had been murdered, 
or at least mutilated, by the cruel hand of the 
primate.'" These charges, which affected his honour 

42 At first Constantine threatened in speaking, but requested 
in writing, koX aypd<P(j}s fih rjireiXet, ypd(p(t}v S^, rj^Lov. His 
letters gradually assumed a menacing tone ; but, while he re- 
quired that the entrance of the church should be open to all, 
he avoided the odious name of Arius. Athanasius, like a skilful 
politician, has accurately marked these distinctions, which 
allowed him some scope for excuse and delay. 

43 The Meletians in Egypt, like the Donatists in Africa, were 
produced by an episcopal quarrel which arose from the perse- 
cution. I have not leisure to pursue the obscure controversy, 
which seems to have been misrepresented by the partiality of 
Athanasius, and the ignorance of Epiphanius. 

** The treatment of the six bishops is specified by Sozomen 
(1. ii. c. 25) ; but Athanasius himself, so copious on the subject 

332-335 OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE 411 

and his life, were referred by Constantine to his 
brother Dalmatius the censor, who resided at Antioch ; 
the synods of Caesarea and Tyre were successively con- 
vened ; and the bishops of the East were instructed to 
judjje the cause of Athanasius before they proceeded 
to consecrate the new church of the Resurrection at 
Jerusalem. The primate mi^ht be conscious of his 
innocence ; but he was sensible that the same implac- 
able spirit which had dictated the accusation would 
direct the proceeding, and pronounce the sentence. 
He prudently declined the tribunal of his enemies, 
despised the summons of the synod of Csesarea ; and, 
after a long- and artful delay, submitted to the per- 
emptory commands of the emperor, who threatened 
to punish his criminal disobedience if he refused to 
appear in the council of Tyre.*° Before Athanasius, 
at the head of fifty Egyptian prelates, sailed from 
Alexandria, he had wisely secured the alliance of the 
Meletians ; and Arsenius himself, his imaginary victim 
and his secret friend, was privately concealed in his 
train. The synod of Tyre was conducted by Eusebius 
of Csesarea with more passion, and with less art, than 
his learning and experience might promise ; his 
numerous faction repeated the names of homicide and 
tyrant ; and their clamours were encouraged by the 
seeming patience of Athanasius ; who expected the 
decisive moment to produce Arsenius alive and un- 
hurt in the midst of the assembly. The nature of the 
other charges did not admit of such clear and satis- 
factory replies ; yet the archbishop was able to prove 
that, in the village where he was accused of breaking 
a consecrated chalice, neither church nor altar nor 
chalice could really exist. The Arians, who had 
secretly determined the guilt and condemnation of 

of Arsenius and the chalice, leaves this grave accusation without 
a reply, 

45 The emperor, in his epistle of Convocation (Euseb. in Vit. 
Constant. 1. iv. c. 42), seems to prejudge some members of the 
clergy, and it was more than probable that the synod would 
apply those reproaches to Athanasius. 


their enemy, attempted, however, to disguise their 
injustice by the imitation of judicial forms : the synod 
appointed an episcopal commission of six delegates to 
collect evidence on the spot ; and this measure, which 
was vigorously opposed by the Egyptian bishops, 
opened new scenes of violence and perjury. After 
the return of the deputies from Alexandria, the 
majority of the council pronounced the final sentence 
of degradation and exile against the primate of Egypt. 
The decree, expressed in the fiercest language of 
malice and revenge, was communicated to the emperor 
and the Catholic church ; and the bishops immedi- 
ately resumed a mild and devout aspect, such as 
became their holy pilgrimage to the sepulchre of 

But the injustice of these ecclesiastical judges had 
not been countenanced by the submission, or even by 
the presence, of Athauasius. He resolved to make 
a bold and dangerous experiment, whether the throne 
was inaccessible to the voice of truth ; and, before 
the final sentence could be pronounced at Tyre, the 
intrepid primate threw himself into a bark which was 
ready to hoist sail for the Imperial city. The request 
of a formal audience might have been opposed or 
eluded ; but Athanasius concealed his arrival, watched 
the moment of Constantino's return from an adjacent 
villa, and boldly encountered his angry sovereign as 
he passed on horseback through the principal street 
of Constantinople. So strange an apparition excited 
his surprise and indignation ; and the guards were 
ordered to remove the importunate suitor ; but his 
resentment was subdued by involuntary respect ; and 
the haughty spirit of the emperor was awed by the 
courage and eloquence of a bishop, who implored his 
justice and awakened his conscience.*^ Constantino 
listened to the complaints of Athanasius with impartial 
and even gracious attention ; the members of the 

46 In a church dedicated to St. Athanasius this situation 
would afford a better subject for a picture than most of the 
stories of miracles and martyrdoms. 

338-341 OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE 413 

syuod of Tyre were summoned to justify their pro- 
ceedings ; and the arts of the Eusebian faction would 
have been confounded^ if they had not aggravated 
the guilt of the primate by the dexterous supposition 
of an unpardonable offence ; a criminal design to 
intercept and detain the corn -fleet of Alexandria, 
which supplied the subsistence of the new capital.*^ 
The emperor was satisfied that the peace of Egypt 
would be secured by the absence of a popular leader ; 
but he refused to fill the vacancy of the archiepiscopal 
throne ; and the sentence which, after a long hesita- 
tion, he pronounced was that of a jealous ostracism, 
rather than of an ignominious exile. In the remote 
province of Gaul, but in the hospitable court of Treves, 
Athanasius passed about twenty-eight months. The 
death of the emperor changed the face of public 
affairs ; and, amidst the general indulgence of a young 
reign, the primate was restored to his country by an 
honoural)le edict of the younger Constantine, who 
expressed a deep sense of the innocence and merit 
of his venerable guest. '^'^ 

The death of that prince exposed Athanasius to a 
second persecution ; and the feeble Constantius, the 
sovereign of the East, soon became the secret accom- 
plice of the Eusebians. Ninety bishops of that sect 
or faction assembled at Antioch, under the specious 
pretence of dedicating the cathedral. They com- 

47 Eunapius has related (in Vit. Sophist, pp. 36, 37. edit. 
Commelin) a strange example of the cruelty and credulity of 
Constantine on a similar occasion. The eloquent Sopater, a 
Syrian philosopher, enjoyed his friendship, and provoked the 
resentment of Ablavius, his Praetorian praefect. The corn-fleet 
was detained for want of a south wind ; the people of Con- 
stantinople were discontented ; and Sopater was beheaded, 
on a charge that he had bound the winds by the power of 
magic. Suidas adds that Constantine wished to prove, by this 
execution, that he had absolutely renounced the superstition 
of the Gentiles. 

48 In his return he saw Constantius twice, at Viminiacum 
and at Caesarea in Cappadocia. Tillemont supposes that Con- 
stantine introduced him to the meeting of the three royal brothers 
in Pannonia. 


posed an ambiguous creed^ which is faintly tinged 
with the colours of Semi-Arianism, and twenty-five 
canons, which still regulate the discipline of the 
orthodox Greeks. It was decided_, with some ap- 
pearance of equity, that a bishop, deprived by a 
synod, should not resume his episcopal fiinctions, till 
he had been absolved by the judgment of an equal 
synod ; the law was immediately applied to the case 
of Athanasius, the council of Antioch pronounced, 
or rather confirmed, his degradation : a stranger, 
named Gregory, was seated on his throne; and Phila- 
grius,*^ the praefect of Egypt, was instructed to sup- 
port the new primate with the civil and military 
powers of the province. Oppressed by the conspiracy 
of the Asiatic prelates Athanasius withdrew from 
Alexandria, and passed three ^ years as an exile and 
a suppliant on the holy threshold of the Vatican. 
By the assiduous study of the Latin language, he 
soon qualified himself to negotiate with the western 
clergy ; his decent flattery swayed and directed the 
haughty Julius : the Roman Pontiif was persuaded 
to consider his appeal as the peculiar interest of the 
Apostolic see ; and his innocence was unanimously 
declared in a council of fifty bishops of Italy. At 
the end of three years, the primate was summoned to 
the court of Milan by the emperor Constaus, who, in 
the indulgence of unlawful pleasures, still professed 
a lively regard for the orthodox faith. The cause of 
truth and justice was promoted by the influence of 

*8 This magistrate, so odious to Athanasius, is praised by 
Gregory Nazianzen, torn. i. Orat. xxi. pp. 390, 391. 

Saepe premente Deo fert Deus alter opem. 
For the credit of human nature, I am always pleased to discover 
some good qualities in those men whom party has represented 
as tyrants and monsters. 

w The chronological difficulties which perplex the residence 
of Athanasius at Rome are strenuously agitated by Valesius 
(Observat. ad Calcem, tom. ii. Hist. Eccles. 1. i. c. 1-5) and 
Tilleiiiont(M6m. Eccles. tom. viii. p. 674. «&c.), I have followed 
the simple hypothesis of Valesius, who allows only one journey, 
after the intrusion of Gregory. 


gold/i and the ministers of Constans advised their 
sovereign to require the convocation of an ecclesias- 
tical assembly, which might act as the representatives 
of the Catholic church. Ninety-four bishops of the 
West, seventy-six bishops of the East, encountered 
each other at Sardica on the verge of the two empires, 
but in the dominions of the protector of Athanasius. 
Their debates soon degenerated into hostile alterca- 
tions ; the Asiatics, apprehensive for their personal 
safety, retired to Philippopolis in Thrace ; and the 
rival synods reciprocally hurled their spiritual thunders 
against their enemies, whom they piously condemned 
as the enemies of the true God. Their decrees were 
published and ratified in their respective provinces ; 
and Athanasius, who in the West was revered as a 
saint, was exposed as a criminal to the abhorrence of 
the East.^^ The council of Sardica reveals the first 
symptoms of discord and schism between the Greek 
and Latin churches, which were separated by the 
accidental difference of faith and the permanent dis- 
tinction of language. 

During the second exile in the West, Athanasius 
was frequently admitted to the Imperial presence ; 
at Capua, Lodi, Milan, Verona, Padua, Aquileia, and 
Treves, The bishop of the diocese usually assisted at 
these interviews ; the master of the offices stood before 
the veil or curtain of the sacred apartment ; and the 
uniform moderation of the primate might be attested 
by these respectable witnesses, to whose evidence he 
solemnly appeals. ^^ Prudence would undoubtedly 

51 If any corruption was used to promote the interest of re- 
ligion, an advocate of Athanasius might justify or excuse this 
questionable conduct by tl:e example of Cato and Sidney ; the 
former of whom is said to have given, and the latter to have re- 
ceived, a bribe, in the cause of liberty. 

52 The Canon which allows appeals to the Roman pontiffs 
has almost raised the council of Sardica to the dignity of a 
general council ; and its acts have been ignorantly or artfully 
confounded with those of the Nicene synod. 

53 As Athanasius dispersed secret invectives against Con- 
stantius (see the Epistle to the Monks), at the same time that 


suggest the mild and respectful tone that became a 
subject and a bishop. In these familiar conferences 
with the sovereign of the VV^est^ Athanasius might 
lament the error of Constantius ; but he boldly 
arraigned the guilt of his eunuchs and his Arian 
prelates ; deplored the distress and danger of the 
Catholic church ; and excited Constans to emulate 
the zeal and glory of his father. The emperor de- 
clared his resolution of employing the troops and 
treasures of Europe in the orthodox cause ; and 
signified^ by a concise and peremptory epistle to his 
brother Constantius, that, unless he consented to the 
immediate restoration of Athanasius, he himself, with 
a fleet and army, would seat the archbishop on the 
throne of Alexandria. -^^ But this religious war, so 
horrible to nature, was prevented by the timely com- 
pliance of Constantius ; and the emperor of the PZast 
condescended to solicit a reconciliation with a subject 
whom he had injured. Athanasius waited with decent 
pride, till he had received three successive epistles 
full of the strongest assurances of the protection, 
the favour, and the esteem of his sovereign ; who in- 
vited him to resume his episcopal seat, and who added 
the humiliating precaution of engaging his principal 
ministers to attest the sincerity of his intentions. 
They were manifested in a still more public manner 
by the strict orders which were despatched into Egypt 
to recall the adherents of Athanasius, to restore their 
privileges, to proclaim their innocence, and to erase 
from the public registers the illegal proceedings which 
had been obtained during the prevalence of the Eusebiaa 
faction. After every satisfaction and security had been 
given, which justice or even delicacy could require, 
the primate proceeded, by slow journeys, through the 

he assured him of his profound respect, we might distrust the 
professions of the archbishop. 

^ Notwithstanding the discreet silence of Athanasius, and 
the manifest forgery of a letter inserted by Socrates, the^e 
menaces are proved by the unquestionable evidence of Luciler 
of Cagliari, and even of Constantius himself. 

351-355 OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE 417 

provinces of Thrace, Asia, and Syria ; and his progress 
was marked by the abject homage of the oriental 
bishops, who excited his contempt without deceiving 
his penetration. °° At Antioch he saw the emperor 
Constantius ; sustained, with modest firmness, the 
embraces and protestations of his master^ and eluded 
the proposal of allowing the Arians a single church 
at Alexandria, by claiming^ in the other cities of the 
empire, a similar toleration for his own party ; a reply 
•which might have appeared just and moderate in the 
mouth of an independent prince. The entrance of 
the archbishop into his capital was a triumphal pro- 
cession ; absence and persecution had endeared him 
to the Alexandrians ; his authority, which he exercised 
with rigour, was more firmly established ; and his fame 
was diffused from jSlthiopia to Britain, over the whole 
extent of the Christian world. 

But the subject who has reduced his prince to the 
necessity of dissembling can never expect a sincere and 
lasting forgiveness ; and the tragic fate of Constans 
soon deprived Athanasius of a powerful and generous 
protector. The civil war between the assassin and 
the only surviving brother of Constans, which afilicted 
the empire above three years, secured an interval of 
repose to the Catholic church ; and the two con- 
tending parties were desirous to conciliate the friend- 
ship of a bishop who, by the weight of his personal 
authority, might determine the fluctuating resolutions 
of an important province. He gave audience to the 
ambassadors of the tyrant, with whom he was after- 
wards accused of holding a secret correspondence ; °^ 

55 I have always entertained some doubts concerning the 
retractation of Ursacius and Valens. Their epistles to Julius, 
bishop of Rome, and to Athanasius himself, are of so different 
a cast from each other that they cannot both be genuine. The 
one speaks the language of criminals who confess their guilt 
and infamy ; the other of enemies who solicit on equal terras an 
honourable reconciliation. 

5^ Athanasius (torn. i. pp. 677, 678) defends his innocence by 
pathetic complaints, solemn assertions, and specious arguments. 
He admits that letters had been forged in his name, but he re- 

VOL. 11. O 


aud the emperor Constautius repeatedly assured his 
dearest father, the most revereud Athauasius, that, 
notwithstanding the malicious rumours which were 
circulated by their common enemies, he had inherited 
the sentiments, as well as the throne, of his deceased 
brother. Gratitude and humanity would have disposed 
the primate of Eg-ypt to deplore the untimely fate of 
Constaus, and to abhor the guilt of Magnentius ; but, 
as he clearly understood that the apprehensions of 
Constantius were his only safeguard, the fervour of 
his prayers for the success of the righteous cause might 
perhaps be somewhat abated. The ruin of Athanasius 
was no longer contrived by the obscure malice of a 
few bigoted or angry bishops, who abused the authority 
of a credulous monarch. The monarch himself avowed 
the resolution, which he had so long suppressed, of 
avenging his private injuries ; ^^ and the first winter 
after his victory, which he passed at Aries, was em- 
ployed against an enemy more odious to him than the 
vanciuished tyrant of Gaul. 

If the emperor had capriciously decreed the death 
of the most eminent and virtuous citizen of the re- 
public, the cruel order would have been executed 
without hesitation, by the ministers of open violence 
or of specious injustice. The caution, the delay, the 
difficulty with which he proceeded in the condemnation 
aud punishment of a popular bishop, discovered to the 
world that the [)rivileges of the church had already 
revived a sense of order and freedom in the Roman 
government. The sentence which was pronounced in 
the synod of Tyre, and subscribed by a large majority 
of the eastern bishops, had never been expressly re- 
pealed ; and, as Athanasius had been once degraded 
from his episcopal dignity by the judgment of his 

quests that his own secretaries, and those of the tyrant, may be 
examined, whether those letters had been written by the former 
or received by the latter. 

" The emperor .ieclared that he was more desirous to 
subdue Athanasius than he had been to vanquish Magnentius 
or Sylvanus. 

351-355 OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE 419 

brethren, every subsequent act might be considered as 
irregular, and even criminal. But the memory of the 
firm and effectual support which the primate of Egypt 
had derived from the attachment of the western church 
engaged Constantius to suspend the execution of the 
sentence, till he had obtained the concurrence of the 
Latin bishops. Two years vvere consumed in ecclesias- 
tical negotiations ; and the important cause between 
the emperor and one of his subjects was solemnly 
debated, first in the synod of Aries, and afterv^ards in 
the great council of Milan/^ which consisted of above 
three hundred bishops. Their integrity was gradually 
undermined by the arguments of the Arians, the 
dexterity of the eunuchs, and the pressing solicitations 
of a prince, who gratified his revenge at the expense 
of his dignity, and exposed his own passions, whilst he 
influenced those of the clergy. Corruption, the most 
infallible symptom of constitutional liberty, was suc- 
cessfully practised : honours, gifts, and immunities 
were offered and accepted as the price of an episcopal 
vote ; °^ and the condemnation of the Alexandrian 
primate was artfully represented as the only measure 
which could restore the peace and union of the Catholic 
church. The friends of Athanasius were not, however, 
wanting to their leader, or to their cause. With a 
manly spirit, which the sanctity of their character 
rendered less dangerous, they maintained in public 
debate, and in private conference with the emperor, 
the eternal obligation of religion and justice. They 
declared that neither the hope of his favour nor the 

58 The affairs of the council of Milan are so imperfectly and 
erroneously related by the Greek writers that we must rejoice in 
the supply of some letters of Eusebius, extracted by Baronius 
from the archives of the church of Vercellse, and of an old life 
of Dionysius of Milan, published by Bollandus. 

59 The honours, presents, feasts, which seduced so many 
bishops, are mentioned with indignation by those who were too 
pure or too proud to accept them. " We combat (says Hilary 
of Poitiers) against Constantius the antichrist ; who strokes the 
belly instead of scourging the back ; " qui non dorsa caedit, sed 
ventrem palpat. 


fear of his displeasure should prevail on them to join 
in the condemnation of an absent, an innocent, a 
respectable brother. They affirmed, with apparent 
reason, that the illegal and obsolete decrees of the 
council of Tyre had long since been tacitly abolished 
by the Imperial edicts, the honourable re-establishment 
of the archbishop of Alexandria, and the silence or 
recantation of his most clamorous adversaries. They 
alleged that his innocence had been attested by the 
unanimous bishops of Egypt, and had been acknow- 
ledged, in the councils of Rome and Sardica,^ by the 
impartial judgment of the Latin church. They de- 
plored the hard condition of Athanasius, who, after 
enjoying so many years his seat, his reputation, and 
the seeming confidence of his sovereign, was again 
called upon to confute the most groundless and ex- 
travagant accusations. Their language was specious ; 
their conduct was honourable : but in this long and 
obstinate contest, which fixed the eyes of the whole 
empire on a single bishop, the ecclesiastical factions 
were prepared to sacrifice truth and justice to the 
more interesting object of defending, or removing, the 
intrepid champion of the Nicene faith. The Arians 
still thought it prudent to disguise, in ambiguous 
language, their real sentiments and designs : but the 
orthodox bishops, armed with the favour of the people 
and the decrees of a general council, insisted on every 
occasion, and particularly at Milan, that their adver- 
saries should purge themselves from the suspicion of 
heresy, before they presumed to arraign the conduct 
of the great Athanasius. 

But the voice of reason (if reason was indeed on the 
side of Athanasius) was silenced by the clamours of a 
factious or venal majority ; and the councils of Aries 

60 More properly by* the orthodox part of the council of 
Sardica. If the bishops of both parties had fairly voted, the 
division would have been 94 to 76. M. de Tillemont (see t. viii. 
pp. 1147-1158) is justly surprised that so small a majority should 
have proceeded so vigorously against their adversaries, the 
principal of whom they immediately deposed. 


and Milan were not dissolved^ till the archbishop of 
Alexandria had been solemnly condemned and deposed 
by the judgment of the Western^ as well as of the 
Eastern, church. The bishops who had opposed, were 
required to subscribe, the sentence ; and to unite in 
religious communion with the suspected leaders of the 
adverse party. A formulary of consent was transmitted 
by the messengers of state to the absent bishops : and 
all those who refused to submit their private opinion 
to the public and inspired wisdom of the councils of 
Aries and Milan were immediately banished by the 
emperor, who affected to execute the decrees of the 
Catholic church. Among those prelates who led the 
honourable band of confessors and exiles, Liberius of 
Rome, Osius of Cordova, Paulinus of Treves, Dionysius 
of Milan, Eusebius of Vercellae, Lucifer of Cagliari, 
and Hilary of Poitiers, may deserve to be particularly 
distinguished. The eminent station of Liberius, who 
governed the capital of the empire ; the personal merit 
and long experience of the venerable Osius, who was 
revered as the favourite of the great Constantine, and 
the father of the Nicene faith ; placed those prelates 
at the head of the Latin church : and their example, 
either of submission or resistance, would probably be 
imitated by the episcopal crowd. But the repeated 
attempts of the emperor to seduce or to intimidate the 
bishops of Rome and Cordova were for some time 
ineffectual. The Spaniard declared himself ready to 
suffer under Constantius, as he had suffered threescore 
years before under his grandfather Maximian. The 
Roman, in the presence of his sovereign, asserted the 
innocence of Athanasius, and his own freedom. When 
he was banished to Bercsa in Thrace, he sent back a 
large sum which had been offered for the accommoda- 
tion of his journey ; and insulted the court of Milan 
by the haughty remark that the emperor and his 
eunuchs might want that gold to pay their soldiers 
and their bishops. The resolution of Liberius and 
Osius was at length subdued by the hardships of exile 
and confinement. The Roman pontiff purchased his 


return hy some criminal compliances ; and afterwards 
expiated his eruilt by a seasonable repentance. Per- 
suasion and violence were employed to extort the 
reluctant signature of the decrepit bishop of Cordova, 
whose strength was broken, and whose faculties were 
perhaps impaired, by the weight of an hundred years ; 
and the insolent triumph of the Arians provoked some 
of the orthodox party to treat with inhuman severity 
the character, or rather the memory, of an unfortunate 
old man, to whose former services Christianity itself 
was so deeply indebted. ^^ 

The fall of Liberius and Osius reflected a brighter 
lustre on the firmness of those bishops who still 
adhered, with unshaken fidelity, to the cause of 
Athanasius and religious truth. The ingenious malice 
of their enemies had deprived them of the benefit of 
mutual comfort and advice, separated those illustrious 
exiles into distant provinces, and carefully selected the 
most inhospitable spots of a great empire.^^ Yet they 
soon experienced that the deserts of Libya and the most 
barbarous tracts of Cappadocia were less inhospitable 
than the residence of those cities in which an Arian 
bishop could satiate, without restraint, the exquisite 
rancour of theological hatred. Their consolation was 
derived from the consciousness of rectitude and in- 
dependence, from the applause, the visits, the letters, 
and the liberal alms of their adherents, and from the 
satisfaction which they soon enjoyed of observing the 

61 The life of Osius is collected by Tillemont (tom. vii. pp. 
524-561), who in the most extravagant terms first admires, and 
then reprobates, the bishop of Cordova. In the midst of their 
lamentations on his fall, the prudence of Athannsius may be 
distinguished from the blind and intemperate zeal of Hilary. 

^'- The confessors of the West were successively banished to 
the deserts of Arabia or Thebais, the lonely places of Mount 
Taurus, the wildest parts of Phrygia, which were in the 
possession of the impious Montanists, &c. When the heretic 
Aetius was too favourably entertained at Mopsuestia in Cilicia, 
the place of his exile was changed, by the advice of Acacius, 
to Amblada, a district inhabited by savages and infested by war 
and pestilence. . 


intestine divisions of the adversaries of the Nicene 
faith. Such was the nice and capricious taste of the 
emperor Constantius, and so easily was he offended by 
tlie slightest deviation from his imaginary standard of 
Ciiristian truth^ that he persecuted^ with equal zeal, 
those who defended the consuhstantiality, those who 
asserted the similar ,fub.stance, and those who denied 
the likeness, of the Son of God. Three bishops, de- 
graded and banished for those adverse opinions, might 
possibly meet in the same place of exile ; and, accord- 
ing to the difference of their temper might either 
pity or insult the blind enthusiasm of their antagonists, 
whose present sufferings would never be compensated 
by future happiness. 

The disgrace and exile of the orthodox bishops of 
tlie ^V^est were designed as so many preparatory steps 
tri the ruin of Athanasius himself. Six and twenty 
months had elapsed, during which the Imperial court 
secretly laboured, by the most insidious arts, to remove 
him from Alexandria, and to withdraw the allowance 
which supplied his popular liberality. But, when the 
primate of Egypt, deserted and proscribed by the 
Latin church, was left destitute of any foreign sup- 
port, Constantius despatched two of his secretaries 
with a verbal commission to announce and execute 
the order of his banishment. As the justice of the 
sentence was publicly avowed by the whole party, the 
only motive which could restrain Constantius from 
giving his messengers the sanction of a written man- 
date must be imputed to his doubt of the event ; and 
to a sense of the danger to which he might expose the 
second city, and the most fertile province of the empire, 
if the people should persist in the resolution of de- 
fending, by force of arms, the innocence of their 
spiritual father. Such extreme caution afforded Atha- 
nasius a specious pretence respectfully to dispute the 
truth of an order, which he could not reconcile either 
with the equity, or with the former declarations, of 
his gracious master. The civil powers of Egypt found 
themselves inadequate to the task of persuading or 


compelling the primate to abdicate his episcopal throne ; 
and they were obliged to conclude a treaty with the 
popular leaders of Alexandria, by which it was stipu- 
lated that all proceedings and hostilities should be 
suspended till the emperor's pleasure had been more 
distinctly ascertained. By this seeming moderation, 
the Catholics were deceived into a false and fatal 
security ; while the legions of the Upper Egypt and 
of Libya advanced, by secret orders and hasty marches, 
to besiege, or rather to surprise, a capital habituated 
to sedition and inflamed by religious zeal.^^ The 
position of Alexandria, between the sea and the lake 
Mareotis, facilitated the approach and landing of the 
troops ; who were introduced into the heart of the 
city, before any effectual measures could be taken 
either to shut the gates or to occupy the important 
posts of defence. At the hour of midnight, twenty- 
three days after the signature of the treaty, Syrianus, 
duke of Egypt, at the head of five thousand soldiers, 
armed and prepared for an assault, unexpectedly in- 
vested the church of St. Theonas, where the archbishop, 
with a party of his clergy and people, performed their 
nocturnal devotions. The doors of the sacred edifice 
yielded to the impetuosity of the attack,